Bush remembered in Mideast over his 1991 Gulf War

Gulf leaders offer condolences to the US for the death of former President George H.W. Bush.
Saturday 01/12/2018
A file photo shows former US President George H.W. Bush being greeted by Saudi troops and others as he arrives in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 1990. (AP)
A file photo shows former US President George H.W. Bush being greeted by Saudi troops and others as he arrives in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 1990. (AP)

LONDON — With the death of former US President George H.W. Bush, his legacy across the Middle East takes root in the 1991 Gulf War that saw US-led forces expel the Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. 

Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, angry that the tiny neighbour had ignored OPEC quotas, which former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein claimed cost his nation $14 billion. 

Saddam also accused Kuwait of stealing $2.4 billion by pumping crude from a disputed oil field and demanded that Kuwait write off an estimated $15 billion of debt that Iraq had accumulated during its 1980s war with Iran.

Bush rallied together a coalition of nations to back the US as it deployed troops to the region and began bombing runs. He talked Israel out of retaliating for Iraqi Scud missiles attacks for fear of alienating Arab allies.

Bush’s relations with Israel were not always smooth. “The Bush presidency was marked by tensions both with (former) Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and the American Jewish leadership,” wrote the Jerusalem Post following the announcement of the death of the former US president. 

In the aftermath of the Gulf War, some called for Bush to continue into Iraq and topple Saddam. Bush in speeches encouraged Iraqis to rise up against Saddam, while privately hoping someone within his own military would depose him. But he was against occupying Iraq.

“To occupy Iraq would shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us, and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero,” Bush later said. “It would have taken us way beyond the imprimatur of international law, … assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerrilla war.”

Bush ultimately would leave the Shia and Kurdish insurgents he urged to rise up against Saddam in 1991 to face the Iraqi leader’s wrath alone, leading to thousands of deaths. 

Still, the Kurdish crisis gave birth to the US-imposed no-fly zone in northern Iraq that allowed the Kurds to flourish into the semi-autonomous region now demanding independence. 

Tehran, which hated Saddam for the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, remained suspicious of Bush despite his pledge of “good will begets good will.” Iran leaned on Lebanon’s Shia militants to help win the release American hostages like Terry Anderson of The Associated Press, but relations went no further.

One of Bush’s last acts as president was pardoning former Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger and others for their role in the Iran-Contra scandal, an offshoot of that hostage crisis.

Iran has noted the death of Bush. A scrolling news bar on state television described Bush as being “like other US presidents who wished to see the collapse of the Islamic Republic.” State television announced Bush’s death, citing international reports.

The 1991 war gave birth to the network of military bases America now operates across the Gulf. Defence agreements with Gulf nations grew into a series of major military installations across the region. 

The presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia, home to the Muslim world’s holiest sites, served as a chief complaint of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden ahead of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

That mixed picture extends to the presidency of his son, George W. Bush, who ordered the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that overthrew Saddam, whom he once famously described as “the guy who tried to kill my dad one time.”

His son would launch the 2003 invasion of Iraq after 9/11 and become so hated in the Arab world an Iraq journalist would even throw a shoe at him during a news conference. 

But the elder Bush remained beloved in Kuwait. Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad said he mourns the death of Bush, praising the former president’s "courageous" rejection of Iraq’s 1990 occupation of the oil-rich Gulf country, Kuwait’s official news agency KUNA reports.

"We remember his historic, honourable and courageous stances towards the state of Kuwait, his rejection of the Iraqi occupation since the first hours and the decisive decisions taken by the American administration under his leadership," KUNA quoted Kuwait’s leader as saying in a cable of condolences to US President Donald Trump.

Leaders in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) offered condolences to both President Donald Trump and former President George W. Bush for the elder Bush’s death. Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who also is the UAE’s prime minister and vice president, tweeted that Emiratis remember Bush as “a firm ally and friend.”

Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said similarly offered condolences.

(AW and agencies)