It was around five on a Thursday morning, the second of August, 1990, when King Hussein
was roused by an urgent call from King Fahd. The distraught "Protector of Mecca"
announced that Kuwait's defenses had crumbled. Iraqi troops were racing toward Kuwait
As his country burned, the emir who had earlier contained his political opponents by
dissolving parliament was easing his shaken nerves in what People magazine called "an
artificial oasis of green grass and pink gardenias in Taif, the posh resort town favored
by Saudi royalty." In their haste to reach this Saudi sanctuary, Kuwait's royal
rulers had left splendors behind. Among the discards, journalist Michael Emery later
counted "an irreplaceable collection of ancient Islamic art, fleets of luxury
automobiles, thousands of top-secret documents," and 26 of the emir's wives.
Saudi Arabia's monarch was not worried about expendable females. "It's all the
Kuwaiti's fault," the king blurted to Hussein. "Please tell Saddam to stop where
King Hussein immediately called Baghdad. It was around 10 in the morning before he
heard Saddam Hussein's voice on the line "What did you do?" King Hussein asked.
"Well, you heard," said Saddam.
"Please, tell me, don't stay there!"
"Well, I will withdraw. It is a matter of days, perhaps weeks," Saddam
assured the head of Jordan.
"No. Don't talk about weeks, only a matter of days," King Hussein implored.
"Yes," Saddam answered, "but I have learned that the ministers are
meeting in Cairo and they want to condemn us. If they do I am afraid that will not
As mutual rivals for the mantle of Arab leadership bequeathed by Nasser, the presidents
of Iraq and Egypt were not pals. "Let them look at it seriously," Saddam
continued, "and not take it that way, because if they do, we will not take it lightly
and they will not like our reaction."
Realizing that all chances of striking a deal for an immediate pullout would evaporate
if Egypt denounced Iraq, the king of Jordan mounted his royal jet and flew immediately to
Alexandria. Around four that afternoon, he met with President Mubarak. Agreeing with the
king's call for discretion, Egypt's president promised to restrain himself until King
Hussein could see Saddam and try to talk him into withdrawing. Mubarak also offered to
carry an invitation to the Iraqi president, asking him to attend a mini-summit to be
hosted by the Saudis in Jeddah the following Sunday, just three days away.
Hussein replied that he preferred flying first to Cairo to head off condemnation by the
Arab League already meeting there. After offering the use of his personal helicopter,
Egypt's president excused himself to take a call from George Bush. When he returned,
Mubarak told King Hussein that the American president wished to speak with him.
Bush was preoccupied by two urgent matters. He was worried about Americans in Kuwait
and he wanted Iraq to withdraw. Hussein assured Bush that he was flying immediately to
Baghdad to seek an Arab solution which could be ratified at the upcoming summit on Sunday.
As Michael Emery later revealed in the Village Voice, "King Hussein then tried to
call King Fahd in Saudi Arabia to get approval of the mini-summit. But he couldn't get
through." Mubarak finally phoned Fahd and asked the Saudi monarch to talk to Jordan's
king. King Fahd said he would return the call.
He never did. As night fell on the first day of the Iraqi invasion, British Prime
Minister Margaret Thatcher was winding up day-long meetings with George Bush in Aspen,
Colorado. The "Iron Lady's" determination and uncanny timing would prove pivotal
in reinforcing the American president's resolve.
Before Baghdad announced its annexation of Kuwait, the US and British governments
invoked a total economic blockade against Iraq. "America stands where it always has,
against aggression, against those who would use force to replace the rule of law,"
the US president declared.
This was an interesting stance, commented Canada's national newspaper, the Globe and
Mail. "When the French invaded Algeria and occupied it until 1962, killing more than
a million people, where were the Americans, where was the world? When the Soviets sent
their forces into Afghanistan in 1979, where were the Americans, where was the world? When
Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, where were those Arab forces now pouring in to 'defend'
Washington continued to reject any "linkage" with regional issues. Expressing
its "moral revulsion" at the notion of "rewarding an aggressor" by
examining such longstanding regional irritants as arms, security, and human rights, the
American administration instead favored war.
Support for the US stand was muted in Jordan, Algeria, Yemen, and Tunisia, where the
baiting of a fellow Arab was immediately understood.
But the West had found a new Hitler. Echoing Bush's blast at Iraq's "unprovoked
aggression," Australia's Prime Minister Hawke declared that "big countries
cannot invade small neighbors and get away with it." Hawke's hawkish sentiment
contrasted sharply with his own Foreign Minister, who had earlier explained his country's
acquiescence to an Indonesian dictator's forcible annexation of East Timor and
extermination of 200,000 East Timorese by explaining that "the world is a pretty
unfair place, littered with examples of acquisition by force."
* * *
Surprised by the forces so quickly arrayed against him, Saddam Hussein was already
looking for a face-saving solution. The day after the invasion, he received Jordan's king
in Baghdad. Agreeing that he or his representative would attend next Sunday's summit,
Saddam told Hussein that he would begin withdrawing his troops even as that meeting began.
The jubilant Jordanian tried phoning Mubarak with the welcome news. But Egypt's leader
did not return the call. Instead, moving quickly in what diplomats attending the Cairo
talks later called a "heavy atmosphere" of dread and outside pressure, the
Egyptian president sabotaged the peace bids of both Husseins by breaking his hours-old
pledge not to condemn Iraq. Following the direction of Mubarak's denunciation, Arab League
foreign ministers also slammed Saddam.
"Oh my God," exclaimed the Jordanian king on hearing of Mubarak's treachery,
"the conspiracy is complete."
But it was still unclear whether Saudi sheiks would allow American infidels on Islam's
most sacred soil. Jordan's Hussein considered an Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia,
"preposterous." King Fahd agreed. If the Saudi king held firm, the US plan to
disarm Iraq would be stalled before it even began.
"There was absolutely no way in the world we could rapidly deploy our air forces
if we couldn't go in and use the Saudi military airfields that were in place. There was no
way we could possibly deploy the Marine Corps and bring in the Marine pre-positioned ships
and equipment, without using the Saudi ports," Schwarzkopf later told the BBC's radio
* * *
High over the Atlantic Ocean, en route to meet with King Fahd, Secretary of Defense
Dick Cheney drew Schwarzkopf aside and asked the general: "You've been working in
this area for a couple of years now and you know these people, what do you think will
Schwarzkopf replied with the candor characteristic of military minds: "I think
what will happen is we'll make our presentation and they'll listen very carefully and then
they'll say, 'Thank you very much, we'll let you know' and we will get back on the
airplane and fly back to Washington with no decision."
At first, it seemed Schwarzkopf was right. Meeting with the Americans in Riyadh on the
night of August 6, King Fahd argued that if Saddam had wanted to invade Saudi Arabia, he
would have swept on virtually unopposed. The Americans countered by saying that Iraq was
following standard Soviet military doctrine, which always consolidated initial advances by
stopping to refuel, rearm and regroup before pressing further.
The king was then handed a sheaf of satellite photos, compliments of the CIA. When
Schwarzkopf showed King Fahd pictures of Iraqi tanks massing along and inside Saudi
territory the king grew more infuriated than intimidated. The general quickly explained
how many troops, ships and fighter squadrons would soon be arriving "to defend Saudi
Arabia against what looked like to be a very possible invasion from the north."
As if awaiting his cue, Secretary Cheney then stepped forward to assure the Saudi
monarch that while Washington was prepared to commit its forces for as long as necessary
to defend Saudi interests, when the time came to leave, all US forces would be withdrawn
from the Kingdom.
A heated discussion ensued between the King and members of the Royal Family. Ambassador
Freeman, who understood Arabic, later told Schwarzkopf that the argument centered around
not being hasty - and remembering what the Kuwaitis had done to invite Iraq's attack. King
Hussein later observed that the Saudi king "pressed the panic button" when he
turned to the American general and said, "OK!"
Schwarzkopf reports that he nearly fell out of his chair. Did "OK" mean
thanks for the information or... Cheney quickly interjected, "So, you agree?"
The King replied, "Yes, I agree."
Making some comment about how many Kuwaitis were living in Saudi hotels because they
weren't willing to make a decision, the Saudi ruler added, "I'm not going to have
Schwarzkopf still believes that the satellite photographs of Iraqi tanks on the Saudi
border forced the king's hand. The next morning, Saudi Minister of Defense Prince Sultan
was stunned when Schwarzkopf answered his query regarding the arrival of the first planes
by saying, "Within 12 hours." As the prince struggled to digest the rapidity of
the American response, Schwarzkopf added, "They're...they're on the way, as we
* * *
As Chuck Horner's first flight of F-16s refueled over the Atlantic, Jordan's King
Hussein was landing in London after conferring with President Bush in Washington. Prime
Minister Margaret Thatcher was waiting. "It was one of the rowdiest discussions that
I ever had with anybody," the Jordanian king later recalled. "Thatcher used
language I wasn't used to from anybody."
The Muslim king was unused to hearing a woman curse. "She was very strong on her
side and so was I - very strong language. She said troops were halfway to their
destination before the request came for them to come."
In fact, advance elements of the US Rapid Deployment Force had begun landing in Saudi
Arabia within 30 minutes of the Saudi-American meeting. Assuring the world his acts were
"wholly defensive," the US president ordered 40,000 military personnel into
Saudi Arabia without consulting congress. As for the short-lived but widely hailed
"Peace Dividend," a Pentagon official explained to puzzled journalists: "If
you're looking for it, it just left for Saudi Arabia."
Were the Americans rushing into a trap of their own devising? Six days after the Iraqi
invasion of Kuwait, as the first US Air Force fighter planes began touching down at
Dhahran, an urgent message was flashed from the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Command
at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The classified communiqué warned US commanders of Iraq's
"mature" arsenal of biological weapons that might be unleashed in a campaign
just announced by their Commander-In-Chief. The message further noted that Iraq had
succeeded in "weaponizing" a number of biological agents. Kuwait's jailers had
also acquired "aerosol generators" that could be mounted on trucks or small
boats to launch biological agents.
Follow-up reports explained that Iraq had acquired at least 40 and possibly 52
Italian-built pesticide sprayers in the spring of 1990. Loaded from 55-gallon drums, the
agricultural sprayers had been custom built to deliver liquid or dry material at rates
approaching 800 gallons per hour through nozzles adjustable to 10 different particle
sizes. The handy nozzles could be rotated 180 degrees, enabling dissemination of BW agents
either along the ground, or upwards into prevailing winds. A subsequent bulletin from the
Defense Intelligence Agency's "Iraq Regional Task Force" noted that the portable
foggers could fit into the back of a pickup truck, a small boat or aircraft. The known
Iraqi BW agents named in the message - powdered anthrax and botulinum toxin - "are
easily mixed with fillers, pose a considerably greater threat through inhalation, and are
better able to withstand the shear forces experienced when disseminated through nozzles
with a relatively small orifice."
This home-grown threat was considerable. Though it would not be pleasant work for its
operators, according to a bio-war expert at the Army Chemical School at Fort McClellan,
Alabama, pickup trucks or small boats equipped with a sprayer and favorable winds could
contaminate hundreds of square miles of terrain. Added Colonel Gerry Schumacher: "CIA
computer models had indicated to us that if just one of the sprayers were turned on, we
could run a risk of contaminating over 100,000 US troops."
Schumacher was in charge of the Pentagon's crash program to develop a germ warfare
detector. But as Schwarzkopf prepared to attack an acknowledged master of bio-warfare, no
workable bio-agent detectors were available. The M8A1 automatic chemical agent alarm
deployed by US forces could not detect mycotoxins. Nor was it sufficiently sensitive to
pick up low concentrations of chemical nerve agents. The minimum amount of sarin required
to activate the M8A1 exceeded the official US Army "hazardous" threshold by a
factor of 1,000.
* * *
As dire warnings filtered through the US command, Saddam was offering a way out. On
August 12, the Iraqi leader proposed linking Iraq's immediate withdrawal from Kuwait to
Syria and Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon - plus an Israeli pullback from the territories
it conquered in 1967.
Bush ignored Saddam's sally. Instead, just three days later, the US president declared
that "the sanctions are working." With 95 percent of Iraq's export earnings
dependent on oil sales, Saddam's regime was losing more than $1.75 billion a month in
Why not negotiate? The New York Times' chief diplomatic correspondent Thomas Friedman
provided the State Department's rationale on August 22 when he wrote that the
administration's rejection of "a diplomatic track" was tied to its concern that
fruitful negotiations might "defuse the crisis" at the cost of "a few token
gains in Kuwait" for the Iraqi dictator; perhaps "a Kuwait island or minor
border adjustments." The crisis could not be resolved, Friedman declared, until
Iraq's dictator was forcibly disarmed.
One week later, a similar Iraqi peace offer was leaked to New York's Newsday. Delivered
to National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft by a former high-ranking US official on
August 23, the Iraqi initiative called for its withdrawal from Kuwait in return for the
lifting of sanctions and full Iraqi control of the Rumayah oil field, extending about two
miles into disputed Kuwait territory. Baghdad also wanted guaranteed access to the Gulf
through the two uninhabited islands assigned by Britain to Kuwait in an old imperial
settlement that had left Iraq virtually landlocked.
In return, Iraq offered to augment its pullout by negotiating an oil agreement
"satisfactory to both nations," as well as mutually satisfactory national
security options "on the stability of the gulf." There was no mention of US
troop withdrawal or other preconditions. An Administration official specializing in
Mideast affairs described the proposal as "serious" and "negotiable."
The offer was discarded by the White House. On September 9, the Chicago Tribune's
financial editor, William Nelkirk, explained to Americans that having "cornered the
West's security market," the US must become "the world's rent-a-cops... as a
lever to gain funds and economic concessions" from the twin economic powerhouses,
Germany and Japan. Whatever naysayers may say, Nelkirk argued, "we should be able to
pound our fists on a few desks" in Japan and Europe, and "extract a fair price
for our considerable services" in protecting their oil. The US could abandon the role
of enforcer, Nelkirk concluded. But to do so would sacrifice "much of our control
over the world economic system."
There was something wrong with this picture. Or at least the pictures shown to King
Fahd. Soviet satellite photos taken five weeks after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait still
showed empty desert where the CIA's photographs had shown tanks. Two American satellite
imaging experts who examined the Soviet photos ruled them authentic. But they could find
no evidence of a massive Iraqi presence in Kuwait. "The Pentagon keeps saying the bad
guys were there, but we don't see anything to indicate an Iraqi force in Kuwait of even 20
percent the size the administration claimed," Peter Zimmerman reported.
Follow-up shots snapped by a Soviet commercial "bird" on September 11 also
failed to find the 250,000 Iraqis and 1,500 tanks Washington claimed had massed in Kuwait.
Zimmerman, a former US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency expert for the Reagan
administration, as well as another former image specialist for the Defense Intelligence
Agency (who asked not to be named because of the classified nature of his work), could see
no Iraqi encampments or vehicle parks in Kuwait. But the much smaller American military
presence at the Dhahran airport in Saudi Arabia stood out clearly in the photos.
"We could see five C-140s, one C-5A, and four smaller transport aircraft, probably
C-130s. There is also a long line of fighters on the ground. We didn't find anything of
that sort anywhere in Kuwait," Zimmerman explained. "We don't see any tent
cities. We don't seen any congregations of tanks. We don't see any troop concentrations,
and the main Kuwait airbase appears deserted." The Soviet satellite's camera
resolution was 18 feet.
Five days later, Washington's agenda became clearer when Air Force Chief of Staff
General Michael Dougan told the press of his service's plans to "destroy the Iraqi
civilian economy." General Dougan was removed from his staff office that same day.
On September 18, two days after Dougan's abrupt departure, Schwarzkopf ordered four
Army planners to begin work on a ground offensive. This might have seemed an innovative
interpretation of Bush's "defensive" pledge, but by then, Washington was
claiming that Iraqi forces in Kuwait had mushroomed to 360,000 troops and 2,800 tanks.
Such a massive movement of troops and vehicles would have left telltale tracks all over
the desert. But repeated sweeps by independent commercial satellites could find no signs
of such an overpowering threat. Unlike the Saudi roads, which had been swept clean, all of
the roads on Kuwait's side of the border were drifted high with undisturbed sand.
"There's no sign that tanks have used those roads," satellite-photo experts
Would a government that had once fed "doctored" satellite photos to confuse
Iranian leaders resort to the same tactic to assure Saudi Arabia's acquiescence to a huge
buildup of foreign troops within its borders? Zimmerman made another point: "The
Kuwait border with Saudi Arabia isn't very long. It wouldn't take more than 10,000 Iraqi
soldiers to cover the border area to the point that people fleeing would run into them all
over the place."
The former defense analyst added that 2,000 "nasty military police would have been
enough to terrorize" Kuwait City, and that two US Marine divisions could have driven
them back to Iraq, "relatively quickly and with relatively little bloodshed." At
the time the photos were taken, there were already more than 100,000 American troops in
* * *
Among them was US Army specialist Jim Brown. His alert notification to deploy to Saudi
Arabia had come three days before Operation Desert Shield officially began. Over the
following two weeks, as Brown and the other members of the 514th Maintenance Company, 10th
Mountain Division prepared to move out, more than two billion pounds of weapons, food,
medical supplies and ammunition would be trucked from around the United States and
transported more than 7,000 miles to Saudi air and sea ports at Dhahran and al Jubayl.
On August 20, Brown's unit reported for their initial briefing and vaccinations at Fort
Drum, New York. Trained to fight Soviet aggressors in the Arctic, the cold weather
specialists learned they were going somewhere hot.
Because of the large number of personnel present, Brown recalls that this first round
of shots saw 5 cc's of immune gamma globulin injected into each trooper in less than a
minute. "In every medical journal I have read on the subject, there is a clear
warning not to exceed 1 cc per minute," Brown says. But no one questioned the urgency
of a process that gave the 514th their meningococcal vaccinations that same day.
The germ-laden shots shocked immune systems already mobilizing for combat in an alien
arena. Brown believes that rest and avoidance of further such insults would have helped
heal their bodies. But "there was no way for this to happen." On September 12,
shortly after receiving anthrax and the botulinum toxoid shots, many of the soldiers in
Brown's battalion fell ill with flu-like symptoms. Two weeks later, they flew to
Frankfurt, Germany, staying overnight before alighting in Dhahran the following day.
As a generator and computer maintenance technician, Brown was placed in charge of an
M88 recovery vehicle. With three other crewmen, he set out recovering broken-down tanks.
His team was also responsible for repairing the huge tank transporters that were to cause
many more casualties on the Saudi's narrow border roads than combat with the Iraqis. Their
particular tasks involved repairing the 63 ton Abrams tanks' complicated hydraulic and
depleted uranium fire-control systems. Over the following months of nonstop stress,
missile alerts, caffeine jolts and deadlines, Brown's travels would take him from the
Saudi ports of Dammam and al Jubayl to Kuwait City, Khafji, and Hafir al Batin.
* * *
Even before Brown boarded his airlift to Dhahran, Sergeant Tom Hare was camped at the
Saudi border town of Sufla, about 65 miles west of Khafji. A stinging sandstorm made Hare
rethink the rigors of his deployment. But it wasn't the sand, he says. It was the corpses
his platoon found buried beneath their position. "There were hundreds of dead camels
and goats on and around the hill we occupied," Hare relates. "They're desert
animals. They have to deal with sandstorms all the time." Even spookier, all of the
flies and insects that had been feeding on the desert-mummified flesh had died.
Another American soldier had never seen animals lay down at night in groups of five,
10, 20 or more and die. But the six "sleeping" camels he saw a few days after
arriving in the country, "were dead as doornails." Venturing closer, the
startled trooper saw that "even the insects on and around them were dead."
Maybe, he decided, "they all thought that it was the end of the world, and died of
fright." Or maybe someone didn't like infidels on sacred Saudi soil.
Sergeant Hare and his company had ample time to consider their predicament as they
remained in the area, eating and sleeping on the hill of camel carcasses. Cuts would no
longer heal, Hare recalls. and the lymph nodes on his neck swelled until he "looked
like a bullfrog." Fine sand infiltrated everything. In November, as their long
deployment dragged on, Hare and his companions learned of two dead goats floating in their
water source. How the animals got there was never determined.
* * *
Hare couldn't know it, but his country's former Cold War enemy was working overtime to
bring him and his buddies safely home. On October 5, 1990, President Mikhail Gorbachev's
personal adviser met with Saddam at his Presidential Palace. Yevgeny Primakov delivered a
"strong" note from the Soviet president telling him to get out of Kuwait.
"The atmosphere was tense," Primakov recalls, which was undoubtedly
understated after handing Saddam such an ultimatum. After agreeing that 1,000 Soviet
specialists could leave Iraq within a month, Saddam Hussein emphasized that Kuwait
"historically belonged" to Iraq. With the price of oil down sharply from $21 to
$12 a barrel, Saddam noted that Kuwait's machinations "spelled economic ruin"
for Iraq. "If I have to fall to my knees and surrender or fight, I will choose the
latter," Iraq's president told Gorbachev's top aide.
The following day, Primakov briefed his boss in Moscow on his meeting with the proud
Iraqi leader. Gorbachev ordered Primakov and his staff to draw up a peace proposal. Within
two days, Primakov was back with an offer that hinged, he said, on finding the line
between "rewarding aggression" and "saving face" for Saddam.
Primakov then flew to Washington on October 18 to discuss the Soviet initiative with US
officials. Gorbachev's representative found "genuine interest" among the
Americans, who wanted to know more about his meetings with an opponent they had not
directly contacted since the crisis began. Primakov explained to Dennis Ross, head of the
president's policy planning staff and the State Department's top Middle East expert, that
the main thrust of the Soviet plan was to make Saddam understand that once his troops left
Kuwait, "we would be ready to discuss the Arab-Israeli issue in order to resolve the
"Israel won't go for that," Ross replied. Bush's Mideast policy adviser was
also skeptical about drawing any distinctions between "rewarding" Saddam and
"saving his face."
Primakov's party was received at the White House the next day. According to the Soviet
aide, the US president expressed "extreme interest" in Saddam's psychological
makeup. Did the dictator's assurance that he was "realist" mean that he was
ready to withdraw from Kuwait?
Bush seemed to be hesitating, Primakov thought, over whether or not to attack Iraq. The
president said he favored a second meeting between the Soviets and Saddam "to inform
Saddam about the uncompromising position of the US." Bush added: "If a positive
signal should come from Saddam, it will be heard by us."
On his way home, the jet-lagged Primakov stopped to meet with Margaret Thatcher in her
country residence at Chequers. For a good hour, the British Prime Minister lectured the
Soviet envoy without interruption, outlining a position that she insisted was gaining
favor with other allied governments.
Thatcher told Primakov that the object was "not to limit things" to the
withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait, but to deliver a devastating blow to Iraq that
would "break the back" of Saddam and destroy the entire military, and perhaps
industrial, potential of that country. "No one should try to interfere with the
objective. No one should even try to ward off the blow against the Saddam regime,"
Thatcher ranted. Bush would later present "the Iron Lady" with the Medal of
* * *
On October 24, Primakov again left Moscow, this time bound for Cairo, Damascus, Riyadh
and Baghdad. For his second meeting with Saddam and his staff, everyone present was
wearing military uniforms. Later, in a one-on-one, Primakov told Saddam: "You have
known me for a long time, and apparently you have become convinced that I try to tell you
the truth. At stake, moreover, a powerful strike against Iraq is unavoidable if you do not
announce your withdrawal from Kuwait and carry out this withdrawal in practice."
Saddam wanted to know when US troops would be leaving Saudi Arabia. "Will the UN
sanctions against Iraq be lifted, or will they remain in place? How will my country's
interest concerning an outlet to the sea be ensured? Will there be some kind of linkage
between the Iraq troop pullout from Kuwait and a solution to the Palestinian
Would America stay the course? A poll taken on November 1, 1991, showed that only 49
percent of Americans thought Kuwait was worth fighting for. The next day, Amnesty
International reported that Saudi security forces were torturing and abusing hundreds of
Yemeni "guest workers" and expelling 750,000 of them, "for no apparent
reason other than their nationality or their suspected opposition to the Saudi Arabian
government's position in the Gulf crisis."
On the 15th, Primakov arrived back in Washington as the UN Security Council opened
debate on a resolution establishing a deadline for Iraq's pullout from Kuwait. The Soviet
advisor feared that if the resolution passed, Saddam would feel trapped, "narrowing
the field for political remedies."
With the US elections behind him, a reelected George Bush now made public his earlier
order sending an additional 200,000 American troops to "defend Saudi Arabia."
Congress was not advised of the reserves' mobilization. But the bogus
"incubator" story plucked a resounding public chord. A new poll done on November
27 found that 59 percent of Americans now favored intervention on the emirate's behalf.
Bush had also scored photo-op points while visiting American troops grousing about a
sandy Thanksgiving. During a private session with Schwarzkopf, the president asked his top
general to assess "the best-case and worst-case scenario" for the upcoming
Schwarzkopf replied bluntly: "The best case would be about three days, which
assumes that the Iraqis quickly fold and surrender en masse. The worst case would be a
situation in which we fight to a stalemate. That could go on for months."
This prognosis did not please the president. "Isn't there some scenario in
between?" Bush demanded.
"I can imagine a campaign lasting three to four weeks where we encounter tough
resistance, but we're able to seize all our objectives and destroy the Republican
Guard," General Schwarzkopf replied.
* * *
On November 29, UN Resolution 678 called on the US and its allies to "use all
necessary means" to liberate Kuwait if Iraq did not withdraw by January 15, 1991.
There would be no "white Christmas" for US forces. As American troops began
the most difficult month away from home, Iraq offered to "scrap chemical and mass
destruction weapons if Israel was prepared to do so." In reply, the first cargo ship
carrying VII Corps's armor docked at al Jubayl.
On December 5, CIA director William Webster appeared before the US Armed Services
committee. America's top spook forecast that lack of spare parts and lubricating oil would
shut down Iraqi aircraft and armor, as well as its military industries, by summer. Admiral
William Crowe and General David Jones, both former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
concurred with Webster's assessment. The brass urged Bush to give sanctions at least a
year to work.
By December 13, 1990, American "Intel" was reporting that the Republican
Guard had moved multiple rocket launchers to two large field ammunition depots in the
Rumayah area along the Kuwait border. During the last week of December, US intelligence
also detected greatly increased activity at Iraq's main chemical plant at Samarra.
The British Ministry of Defense believed that Iraq "may have as many as 100,000
artillery shells filled with chemicals and several tons [of bulk chemical agent] stored
near the front line." The London Times reported that Saddam Hussein had given
front-line commanders permission to use these weapons at their discretion, and that
"it was no longer a question of if, but when."
Except for the elite Republican Guard being held back in reserve, most of Iraq's armed
forces were now in Kuwait. As the Iraqi Army scrambled to disperse its SCUD missiles and
CBW stockpiles, deserters told their British captors that substantial supplies of chemical
weapons were being cached along the entire front. Another Iraqi defector reported that
"each brigade of the 20th Infantry Division has eight mustard and binary chemical
A captured Iraqi Army document gave orders from Saddam Hussein to Iraqi II Corps
elements in Kuwait ordering them to "prepare the chemical ammunition."
Intercepted radio messages also confirmed that Saddam had ordered his commanders to launch
their "unconventional" weapons as soon as the allies' forces crossed the border
* * *
Schwarzkopf's soldiers were unprepared to counter this threat. The reassurances given
to Congress and the American people by the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General
Colin Powell, and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney that their troops were properly
equipped for possible NBC warfare were deemed necessary falsehoods. CENTCOM knew that the
marines tasked with breaching the Iraqi's main defensive lines in Kuwait faced their
chemically armed adversary with leaky gas masks and few replacement filters.
Nearly five months' deployment in the desert, constant NBC drills and the need to carry
their masks at all times had greatly reduced the serviceability of American gas masks.
According to Captain Manly's "NBC Material and Logistics" report, some marine
reservists "were lacking in NBC equipment, many of their protective masks were
obsolete, and they were deficient in NBC survival skills training." Manly also
pointed to "the M17A2 Protective Mask and OG-84 Protective Suit, both of which were
in critically short supply throughout the war."
As early as November 1, 1990, the US Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia was
reporting up the chain-of-command that many Marines hastily deployed in Saudi Arabia were
being forced to fix worn-out gas masks with duct tape. Faced with an at-home 26 to 40
percent failure rate, the Albany technicians feared that few masks and hoods could survive
intact after being clogged and chafed by sand sifting into Marine mask carriers.
The previous month, Defense Intelligence Agency analysts warned General Powell that
"tests indicate that dusty agents can penetrate US chemical and biological warfare
overgarments...First battlefield use will most likely be detected by the onset of symptoms
among exposed personnel."
The "dusty agent" referred to was liquid mustard gas absorbed onto a
talc-like carrier medium. As CIA analyst Patrick Eddington explained in his heavily
annotated Gassed In The Gulf: "We were in no position to deal with a real chemical
threat on the battlefield. We had no way to defend effectively against [dusty agent] and
DoD knew it."
While Schwarzkopf opened his Christmas package of sugar cookies, peanut butter fudge
and shortbread sent by his wife Brenda, the Iraqis celebrated the Christian season of
rejoicing with successful flight tests of al Hussein missiles filled with sarin nerve
powder. On December 20, the first test firings of the new, improved SCUD saw two and
possibly four al Husseins impact near Wadi Amij in western Iraq. Quoting unidentified
intelligence sources, the New York Times claimed the new missiles were testing simulated
chemical warheads. Another successful test was launched the day after Christmas.
Schwarzkopf's only consolation came from listening to "relaxation tapes" of
wildlife sounds and ocean waves. Despite the latest developments, the general was sure
that one desert Christmas was all that his soldiers could take.
* * *
Eager for adventure, David Prestwich had showed up at the recruiter's office when he
was just 16. Told to come back, he reappeared on his next birthday saying, "take
me." Two days later he was in boot camp and his life belonged to the Department of
National Defense. Trained as a medic, the young Canadian traveled the world from exotic
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, to Germany, where he served for five years. Prestwich met and
married Leanne during an eight-year posting to Esquimalt, British Columbia on Canada's
Right up until the first day of 1991, the Prestwichs' matching military careers seemed
ideal. Then, with an abruptness that characterizes military life, David's unit was ordered
to stow their hangovers and start packing. Everyone guessed it was the Gulf. But no one
figured that 1 Canadian Field Hospital would become the closest Canadians to a tempest
called Desert Storm.
On January 2, as the Prestwichs prepared to assist Canada's contribution to what the UN
Secretary General was already calling "a US war," Washington disclosed another
Iraqi offer. This time, Saddam Hussein agreed "to withdraw from Kuwait if the United
States pledges not to attack as soldiers are pulled out, if foreign troops leave the
region, and if there is agreement on the Palestinian problem and on the banning of all
weapons of mass destruction in the region."
Washington officials described the offer as "interesting" because it dropped
all claims to the two disputed Gulf islands, as well as the Rumayah oil field. The new
initiative "signals Iraqi interest in a negotiated settlement," the State
Department believed. One of its Mideast experts described the proposal as a "serious
pre-negotiation position." Bush immediately dismissed Iraq's offer.
While it failed to report the latest Iraqi proposal, the New York Times did note that
after meeting with Saddam, neither Yasser Arafat nor the Iraqi president "insisted
that the Palestinian problem be solved before Iraqi troops get out of Kuwait."
According to Arafat, "Mr. Hussein's statement August 12, linking an Iraqi withdrawal
to an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, was no longer operative as a
negotiating demand." All that is necessary to achieve Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait,
the Palestinian leader went on, is a commitment by the UN Security Council to solve major
But Bush was not interested in averting a war that would leave Iraq armed with
unconventional weapons, including a program bent on producing nuclear bombs. Instead of
poring over peace proposals, the US president was engrossed in Martin Gilbert's biography
of Churchill at war.
* * *
Iraq's military command was already preparing for the inevitable. On January 7,
American intelligence informed General Schwarzkopf that chemical weapons were being
removed from the Samarra Chemical and Biological Warfare Research, Production, and Storage
facility. Orbiting "Keyhole" satellites photographed similar activity at Iraq's
top chemical weapons research and development center, the nearby Muthanna State
Establishment. Located near Samarra, about 65 miles northwest of Baghdad, this sprawling
desert complex was estimated by American intelligence to be producing more than 2,000 tons
of mustard and sarin agents a year. UN on-site inspectors would later confirm this
On January 9, Bush was still insisting he had the constitutional authority to attack
Iraq without congressional approval. But the world was holding its collective CNN breath
as James Baker met Iraq's Tariq Aziz in a last-ditch, face-to-face effort to avert war.
Meeting outside the conference room at Geneva's Intercontinental Hotel, Aziz assured
reporters, "I have come, in good faith. I am open-minded, and I am ready to conduct
positive, constructive talks with Secretary Baker, if he shows the same intention."
Inside the room, both sides took their places, pulling back seven or eight seats on
each side of a long table. The American delegation had finally worked out what to do if
the Iraqi representative offered to shake hands. When Aziz extended his hand, Baker shook
it in a businesslike manner. As both men sat down, Baker handed Aziz a copy of a letter
from the American president. The original message, addressed to Saddam Hussein, remained
sealed in a brown manila envelope in the middle of the table.
Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly remembers that Tariq Aziz took 10 or 15 minutes
to read the letter. As he stopped occasionally to underline passages, a thin bead of sweat
ran down the temple of Saddam's closest adviser.
"We stand today at the brink of war between Iraq and the world," Bush had
written. Urging Iraq to comply with the UN resolution and depart Kuwait, the president
continued: "Iraq will regain the opportunity to rejoin the international community.
More immediately, the Iraqi military and establishment will escape destruction."
Alluding to the use of chemical biological weapons: "You and your country will pay a
terrible price if you order unconscionable acts of that sort."
Aziz finished the note and looked at Baker. "Look, Mr. Secretary, this is not the
kind of correspondence between two heads of state. This is a letter of threat, and I
cannot receive from you a letter of threat to my president." Aziz returned the
The language is strong, Baker responded, but it is not impolite. "It conveys an
important message to your president, and I urge you to take this letter back to Baghdad
and to give it to your president."
Again Aziz refused. "No, I won't do that, I can't do that. It's not appropriate
Baker said, "Well, minister, it seems to me you've taken a rather large burden on
your shoulders since you're the only person on your side of the table, who has read the
letter." Several Americans thought the Iraqi diplomat's hands trembled slightly at
Downstairs in the hotel lobby, rumors were already circulating among hundreds of
reporters starved for hard news. Progress toward a settlement was being made!
"Mr. Secretary," Aziz continued. "Iraq is a very ancient nation. We
lived for six thousand years, I have no doubt that you are a very powerful nation. I have
no doubt that you have a very strong military machine and you will inflict on us, heavy
losses. But Iraq will survive. And this leadership will decide the future of Iraq."
Baker corrected Aziz, saying that another leadership was going to decide Iraq's fate.
"You are wrong," Aziz shot back. "In this region, in our region, when a
leadership fights against Americans, it politically survives. And remember what happened
to Nasser when he was defeated in 1967, he resigned and then the people, the masses
returned him to power."
The US Secretary of State tried to explain that the coalition's overwhelming military
and technological superiority meant that, if it came to a war, Iraq would lose.
"We are very well aware of the situation. We have been very well aware of the
situation from the very beginning. And I don't ..."
"I am trying not to threaten. I just want you to understand the
consequences," Baker broke in. But Aziz insisted that American soldiers had never
fought in the desert. They did not know desert conditions, and would not be able to fight.
Although the war would be long and difficult for Iraq, he assured Baker that in the end
Iraq would prevail.
At one point, when Aziz claimed that Iraq had to invade Kuwait because that country was
threatening them. Baker brusquely replied: "That's ridiculous."
After more than six hours of discussion, it was clear that Saddam Hussein preferred the
defeat of his armies - and possibly the ruin of his country - to losing face by backing
"Minister, I don't want to cut his off prematurely," Baker concluded.
"But I have said everything that, er, that I have to say and everything that er, I
think is important to say. And if you have anything further to offer, then we'll, I'll
stay here as long as you want to."
Aziz replied, "We don't have anything. I don't have anything further to say."
The meeting was adjourned. Aziz had told the American delegation that the people of his
region believed in fatality. "They believe that when there is fate, you have to face
it." As the meeting broke up, James Baker felt that his Iraqi counterpart was
resigned to what was about to happen.
The sealed envelope containing Bush's letter had remained on the table between Tariq
Aziz and James Baker all day. Now the American Secretary of State half-turned toward Aziz.
"Are you certain you wouldn't like to take the letter with you?" he asked.
"No, I, I won't take it," said a man who knew very well his boss's reaction to
such a note. James Baker picked up the envelope and brought it back to his room.
"We shook hands at the end," Baker recalls. "Each delegation shook hands
and, and I was certain at the time, that we would be going to war. And going to war very,
Down in the hotel lobby, excited conversations hushed as expectant reporters turned to
hear James Baker: "The message that I conveyed from President Bush and our coalition
partners was that Iraq must either comply with the will of the international community and
withdraw peacefully from Kuwait, or be expelled by force. Regrettably ladies and
gentlemen, I heard nothing today that, in over six hours, I heard nothing that suggested
to me, any Iraqi flexibility whatsoever."
Baker's use of the word "regrettably,"with its implication of imminent
conflict, sent world money and stock markets reeling. In a Saudi hotel, a sign shot up:
"Iraq has won the toss and elected to receive."
In Riyadh, General Norman Schwarzkopf was checking the final details of his plans to
send six hundred thousand troops into battle as he watched Tariq Aziz step to the hotel
"Well it was very late at night in, in, in Riyadh,' the general later recounted to
the BBC. "And then Tariq Aziz came out and talked for, it seemed like for ever, and
never mentioned one word about Kuwait. At that point, I realized we were going to war. So,
so you have this, this, you know, you're torn by two ends. Number one you are going
through detailed preparations to make sure you do, do it right and you do prevail. And at
the same time, another part of you is saying, you know, gosh, it would really be nice if
somehow this could all be brought about to a necessary conclusion without the need to go
to war. It, it meant plain and simply, that we were going to war. That people were going