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Why Egypt and Syria helped the USA in the invasion of Iraq
In the last decade of the twentieth century, a radical restructuring of the system of international relations took place. The change in the international situation at the global level seriously affected the balance of power in the Middle East. The US influenced the Gulf War by actively participating. The USA invaded Iraq with the help of the coalition forces in the 1990s.
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The events of the invasion continued until 2003 when the US and allied countries launched a military operation against Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s government, and that became the first phase of the protracted Iraq War (2003-2011) (Cruden, 2011). Two countries of the Arab world helped the United States, Syria, and Egypt. The purpose of this paper is to describe the US invasion of Iraq and explain the reasons for Egypt and Syria helping the United States and the ways of this aid.
US Invasion in Iraq: International Participation
The reasons for the US invasion were the events in the Gulf region at the end of the 20th century. Iraq claimed its rights on Kuwait explaining it by historical reasons and territorial claims (Hiro, 1992). After a deteriorated situation due to the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq wanted to boost its economy by using Kuwait’s oil resources. The invasion proclaimed by Hussein, who was the leader of Iraq at the time, started on August 2, 1990, and that event led to the Gulf War (Bennett et al., 1997). Iraq invaded Kuwait on the pretext of them stealing oil from the Iraqi: Americans really gave Kuwait directional drilling technology, which allowed them to descend deep into the “reservoirs” of neighbors. In fact, Iraq was not satisfied due to the low cost of the oil that was $18 per barrel (Agnew, 2003). The world price, not without the orders from the US and Europe, was dictated precisely by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. If the price was $25 per barrel, then Iraq would be able to improve its financial and economic situation after the recently concluded Iran-Iraq War (Bennett et al., 1997). Therefore, the US wanted to influence the countries that were rich in oil and resolve the conflict between Iraq and Kuwait.
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There were some operations led by the US and other countries against Iraq where Egypt and Syria took part as well: “Desert Storm” and “Desert Shield.” The operation “Desert Storm” lasted from January 17 to February 24, 1991, and became part of the so-called First War in the Persian Gulf (“Gulf War”) (Bennett et al., 1997). The operation “Desert Shield” happened even earlier: it started on August 7, 1990, with the deployment of the US troops in Saudi Arabia (Bennett et al., 1997). A subsequent operation called “Desert Saber” lasted from the 24th to the 28th of February in 1991 (Bennett et al., 1997). It included MHC ground operation, and that led to the defeat of the Iraqi army. Kuwait finally received its freedom, and coalition forces moved deeper into the Iraq territory. The Iraqi authorities then announced the termination of resistance on all fronts and recognized all UN Security Council resolutions.
Egypt and Syria acted within the anti-Iraq coalition. The composition of the anti-Iraq coalition included 28 countries. The most active role was associated with the following countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Egypt, Syria, and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, which included Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar. In 2003, another military campaign in Iraq began on March 20; on April 9, the US troops occupied the capital city of Iraq, Baghdad. On May 1, US President George W. Bush declared the end of active military actions (Bennett et al., 1997, p. 56). The conducted operation was based on the UN Security Council Resolutions 678 and 1441 without further the UN’s sanctions (Bennett et al., 1997, p. 75). The official reason for the outbreak of hostilities was announced to be a bond regime against international terrorism, in particular, the movement known as “Al-Qaeda”, as well as the search and destruction of weapons of mass destruction (Faour, 1995). Probably, one of the goals of the invasion was to gain control of oil reserves in Iraq. Nevertheless, all countries that participated in the events associated with the Gulf War had their own objectives and respective outcomes.
Reasons for Egypt to Help the USA
Most countries of the peninsula opposed the annexation of Kuwait by Iraq. Therefore, the anti-Iraq coalition came into existence under the auspices of the UN. Then, it became obvious that Saudi Arabia and Egypt unreservedly supported Kuwait. On the other hand, Iraq had its own allies that included Jordan, Yemen, and Sudan, though they were in the minority. Therefore, the United States found powerful allies in the Arab region. Among them, the most helpful were Syria and Egypt.
Among the Arab countries, apart from the military forces of Saudi Arabia, Egypt provided the greatest help. Thus, it strengthened the commitment of the Arab League and significantly improved the coalition forces. The West met Egypt’s decision with widespread approval, but in some parts of the country, there were resistance outbreaks. However, the majority of the population supported the decision. After a series of bloody wars with Israel, the Egyptian soldiers were well trained and equipped, and professional officers commanded the divisions. Egypt launched the two of its twelve divisions; the first division arrived at the scene of the hostilities in late September – early October (Bennett et al., 1997). It comprised of the third mechanized division, which is sometimes mistakenly called the 7th; enhanced chemical protection units; and landing (Bennett et al., 1997). After that division, the fourth Armored Division followed in December. In total, the Egyptian troops amounting to 36,000 people were deployed in Saudi Arabia; 2,500 people as part of the auxiliary troops were deployed in the UAE (Bennett et al., 1997).
The US troops began to arrive in Saudi Arabia on the seventh day of the War, on the 8th of August. As a part of the operation “Desert Shield” in this country, the part of the 82nd Airborne Division from the Central Command of the US Armed Forces landed there as well (Hiro, 1992, p. 56). The Egyptian President Mubarak allowed the US Air Forces to use the country’s airspace and allowed the carrier strike group of six warships led by the nuclear aircraft carrier “Eisenhower” to pass through the Suez Canal (Bennett et al., 1997). Therefore, it was evident that such support was the result of the relationship between Mubarak and the President of the United States.
The reasons of Egypt supporting the US in the military intervention in Iraq are related to their friendly relationship before and after the Gulf War. For example, the United States had a significant impact on the formation of the political elite of the Arab Republic of Egypt inviting the Egyptians to take part in various programs in the field of democratic development. The number of Egyptians in the US was increasing rapidly: in 1994, the State Department invited 3300 people, and in 2008, the number rose to148 700 Egyptian citizens (Cruden, 2011, p. 56). The United States and Egypt were building a relationship based on a mutual interest in the maintenance of peace and stability in the Middle East, improving the Egyptian economy, and promoting the reciprocal trade relations. Egypt was a key partner of the US in promoting regional stability and the fight against terrorism.
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There are some historical reasons for dependence from the US. Due to the signing of the Camp David Accords and the peace treaty with Israel, A. Sadat ensured peace with Israel, the return of the occupied lands, and the United States agreed to provide an annual economic and military aid, which, however, led ultimately to a sharp increase in the country’s dependence on the US (Hiro, 1992, p. 220). The Egyptian leadership playing on the US interests in the Middle East has sought and seeks to obtain the maximum possible benefit in terms of politics and economy. On the other hand, the demonstration of independence accentuated distancing from the United States, and Israel allowed the Egyptian leadership to obtain credibility in the Arab world as well as to soften the criticism from the opposition. The participation of Egypt in the multinational force was a write-off of $7 billion of debt, which undoubtedly became an additional and compelling argument in favor of maintaining the “special relationship” with the US (Hiro, 1992, p. 35). Another reason was the economic gains during the US invasion of Iraq. Egypt also made considerable economic gains directly following its participation in the operation “Desert Storm.” At the time, Egypt made approximately US$100 billion: $30 billion of that money were in the form of exempted debt to foreign countries, $25 billion in Kuwaiti funds, $10 billion from Saudi Arabia, and another $10 billion from the United Arab Emirates (Hiro, 1992, p. 34). Therefore, the reasons for such help were also lucrative.
Reasons for Syria to Help the USA
One of the leading regional powers of the Eastern Mediterranean is Syria in the new geopolitical conditions faced with the choice of priorities not only internationally but also in the inter-Arab relations. In 1990, the foreign policy of the Syrian Arab Republic underwent a major adjustment, which was related to the invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqi troops (Hiro, 1992, p. 321). There are quite many similarities between Syria and Iraq: mainly Arabs live in both countries, and there are large Kurdish communities. The two countries experienced the control of the pan-Arab party called “Baas”. Baas was divided into two branches in Iraq and Syria in 1966 (Hiro, 1992, p. 325). The Baas division in Iraq has lost its influence in the country when Hussein’s regime has been defeated while in Syria, it is holding high positions in many spheres of life.
There are also important differences between Iraq and Syria. The religious majority in Syria is Muslim Sunni comprising 74% of the population while in Iraq, there are only slightly more Shiites than the Sunnis: 51% and 42% of the total population respectively (Hiro, 1992, p. 45). In Syria, the administration of the country and the army is in the hands of the minority representatives called the Alawi Sect (Bennett et al., 1997). At the same time, Iraq’s government officials are mostly Shiite. Such differences inside one religion engender major specialties of Iraq and Syria as well as conflicts between them.
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Inter-Arab relations and changes in the international relations and world order changed the Syrian policy toward Baghdad. Syria is one of the few Arab countries that supported Iran during the Iran-Iraq conflict in 1980-1988 (Bennett et al., 1997). This led to some complications at the bilateral level. In addition, Syria’s new foreign policy strategy has been associated with only the increasing role of the United States and the deteriorating domestic economic situation of the SAR but also with a growing concern in Damascus related to the policy pursued by Baghdad. The strengthening of the Iraqi war machine during the Iran-Iraq conflict has shifted the balance of power in favor of Damascus. Syrian fears were confirmed when it became apparent that there is the support of Iraq’s anti-Syrian government in Lebanon led by General M. Aoun (Hiro, 1992). Since the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, Iraq has maintained anti-Syrian forces, who spoke for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon (Hiro, 1992). Therefore, there was the reason of the animosity of Syria towards Iraq.
Even before the occupation of Kuwait, Syria was warning about the threat of a conflict between the two countries, the split of the Arab States, and the possibility of foreign intervention. Since the beginning of the Gulf crisis, Syria channeled its efforts into resolving the conflict by peaceful means within the framework of pan-Arab forces. On the day of the occupation of Kuwait, President B. Assad gathered a pan-Arab meeting to find a quick solution to the problem before the crisis went out of control (Hiro, 1992). The president of Syria even urged Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait in exchange for support in case of the US military intervention in Iraq (Hiro, 1992). Assad thought that force could not solve the conflicts, that it was necessary to withdraw from Kuwait and negotiate until it was too late, but the Iraqi government refused to cease hostilities. It played a decisive role in the Syrian authorities not only supporting the military operation “Desert Storm” and the involvement of the United States on January 17 – February 27, 1991, but also taking an active part in the conflict themselves (Hiro, 1992). Syria viewed the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq as a major catastrophe and an unforgivable mistake, which returned the Arabs to the prehistoric, pre-Islamic era. In the liberation of Kuwait, there were not only the foreign forces from the West but also the armed forces of the Arab States. Trying to focus on overcoming the crisis in the Persian Gulf at the time, Syria took a variety of actions in all possible directions. Nevertheless, the relationship between the US and Syria remained strained.
Initially, the position of Syria presupposed non-participation in the military operations in Iraq. Damascus was generally against the excessive retraction of the US forces in the Arab region. Iraq directly borders with Syria, and it was a question of the national security of the country. The position of Damascus estimated as unequivocally positive, especially against the background of the politics of other Gulf countries (except Saudi Arabia) as Jordan and Sudan. The effect of such involvement in the anti-Iraq coalition was positive both on the regional and global levels. All this led to the assessment of Syria’s role in the Iraq-Kuwait conflict as a number of the Arab countries were guided primarily by only the pan-Arab interests and demanded registration of the Arab approaches to the problem. Syria actively contributed to the formulation of the clear views of the Arab community in the Gulf War and ways of its elimination. Among these countries, Syria operated fully and consistently.
Taking into account its interests, Syria managed to establish multilateral cooperation with other Arab countries following a decision to actively participate in the conflict resolution that was adopted at the summit in Cairo. Iraq, as a geopolitical opponent of Syria, was completely isolated while in Damascus, there were opportunities for further strengthening of the dominance in the Lebanese affairs and the establishment of the “Syrian order” there (Hiro, 1992).
During the Gulf War, Syria put forward various peace initiatives to resolve the crisis in the region. Syria led constant work on the revival of pan-Arab solidarity and acted as the initiator of the construction of the “Arab security” in the Persian Gulf in the form of the military-political union of the GCC countries, Syria and Egypt, which was a testament to the increased credibility of Damascus (Faour, 1995). On February 17-18, 1991 in Cairo, at the meeting of the foreign ministers of Egypt, ATS, and six members of the GCC, Syria addressed the issue of the creation of the combined forces of the 8 Arab countries to prevent the recurrence of aggression in the future (Hiro, 1992). During this meeting, the members elaborated on the principles enshrined in the Damascus Declaration on March 6, 1991 (Hiro, 1992). These principles are the reaffirmed commitment to the Charter of the Arab League, the agreement on joint defense, and economic cooperation. Signing the Declaration was an important factor in the political realities of the contemporary Arab world, in determining the ratio of the leading Arab states to changes in the international and regional situation, and in realizing the necessity of collective steps to ensure the pan-Arab security.
Syria contributed to the US invasion of Iraq in the form of military power. Syria gave the sixth-largest contingent of approximately 20,000 people to help the US in its intervention in Iraq. The biggest involvement of Syria was during the operation “Desert Storm.” Moreover, it has received financial assistance from the GCC, overcome the isolation of the country in the West, and gained time to strengthen its position in Lebanon (Hiro, 1992). Factors of taking such position were the Syrian-Iraqi rivalry in the region, the threat of the Syrian national security that Iraq posed together with the loss of Syria, and the need to improve relations with the West and pro-Western regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, there was a need to obtain material and financial assistance from the GCC and European countries in the context of growing social and economic problems. In addition, during this crisis, Damascus initiated the creation of the “Arab security” in the form of the military-political union of the GCC countries, Syria, and Egypt. This initiative was reflected in the Damascus Declaration adopted on March 6, 1991, in which the attempt to create a national security system has been made in the Arab world (Hiro, 1992, p. 115). Thus, the choice of the Syrian leadership in favor of participation in the military operation “Desert Storm” was justified: due to a flexible and balanced approach to the inter-Arab and international affairs, Syria strengthened its geopolitical position in the Middle East.
In general, Syria and Egypt played an important role in helping the US to invade Iraq. The United States started intruding in the Iraqi affairs in the 1990s, and the conflicts reached a peak in 2003. However, the highest involvement of Arab countries happened in the1990s with the formation of the anti-Iraq coalition. At the time, the US positioned itself as a sole global superpower after the Cold War. One of the American objectives was to improve the presence and impact in the Arab region as well as to suppress Hussein and the aggressive politics of Iraq. Syria and Egypt were the most active helpers, though their reasons were different. As for Egypt, it expected financial benefits and a higher position among the Arab States. It is important to note that after establishing diplomatic relations, the US was probably the most important foreign policy vector of Egypt. American policy brought democracy to Egypt. While moderate participation of Egypt in the Persian Gulf War was natural, it was a completely surprising decision for the uncompromising Syrian government to start cooperation with its old enemies, the United States, and Great Britain. Inside the country, violent protests sparked, but they were brutally suppressed. Syria also had historical reasons. However, the main stimulus was that the authorities began condemned the Iraqi actions toward Kuwait while Syria was interested in regional security. Of course, there were important aspects of keeping the distance from the US, but Syria and Egypt were the decisive factors of the American successful invasion of Iraq.
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