Iraq wars Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Although the U.S. government cited a number of reasons for each of these wars, both wars were fought, at least in part, to protect the American economy and its businesses from the threatened loss of access to petroleum. As with earlier American wars, these conflicts stimulated American business and technological development in unforeseen ways.

From colonial times through the early twenty-first century, nearly all American wars have been fought at least partially over economic resources of one kind or another. Throughout the entire history of warfare, the struggle to control resources has played a part in military conflicts, whatever rationalizations may be given by political leaders and historians regarding the causes of war.Iraq warGulf War

Since shortly after World War II, access to oil from the countries surrounding the Persian Gulf has been a key element in U.S. foreign policy. In the immediate post-World War II era, the United States was very successful in maintaining access to oil. However, as time went on, American hegemony in the Middle East weakened. In 1972, Iraq nationalized American and other foreign Petroleum industry;Iraq warsoil companies operating in the country. Although American companies were still able to buy oil from Iraq, they no longer had direct control of its production. By the end of the twentieth century, Iraq had the third-largest known conventional oil reserves in the world, after its neighbors, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The Gulf War

Although Iraq had substantial oil revenues, it did not invest in developing its oil fields. Because Iraqi oil extraction was inefficient and exploration had been limited, many oil experts believed that the Iraqi oil fields were the most important potential source of oil on the globe. Rather than increasing oil exploration, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, SaddamHussein sought to increase his control over oil by openly invading his small southern neighbor, Kuwait, in August, 1990. Kuwait then had the fourth-largest known conventional oil reserves. Combining Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil reserves would make Iraq a close second to Saudi Arabia in its ability to control the world’s oil. However, Iraq was mistaken in thinking that no nation would come to the aid of occupied Kuwait.

Hussein’s open aggression provoked the United States to demand that Iraq withdraw from Kuwait and to threaten an international military response if it did not. Although this was the most important reason given by the U.S.-led coalition, the United States also argued that the Iraqi army was in a position to threaten conquest of the Saudi Arabian oil fields, which would give Iraq control of more than half of the world’s oil reserves.

Shortly after the invasion, the United Nations Security Council issued a resolution ordering Iraq to leave Kuwait. In January, 1991, after Iraq had refused to comply, the United Nations authorized the United States to form a coalition to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. The ensuing Persian Gulf War began with U.S.-led United Nations coalition air assaults on Iraq on January 17. The ensuing war was brief. By the end of February, Iraq agreed to withdraw from Kuwait and a cease-fire was in place. After Iraqi forces were out of Kuwait, a United Nations commission redrew the nation’s border with Iraq. The United Nations then created safe zones and no-fly zones within Iraq to protect Kurds and other Iraqi minorities. The United Nations also arranged for ongoing inspections of Iraqi facilities to monitor the situation and force the destruction of any nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. It also continued trade sanctions on Iraq.

The 2003 Iraq War

The war that began in Iraq in 2003 was an outgrowth of issues left unresolved after the 1991 war. In contrast to the earlier conflict involving a United Nations coalition, this new conflict was undertaken as a U.S. initiative. After Hussein’s government was destroyed in just a few weeks in 2003, the United States shifted to maintaining its presence in Iraq against guerrilla-style warfare conducted by anti-American forces from within and without Iraq. The United States offered several different justifications for invading Iraq other than oil, but it was widely believed that access to Iraqi and Persian Gulf oil was the underlying cause of war. Analysts who claim oil to be the main cause of the 2003 Iraq War point to the 2008 contract between a major American oil company in Iraq for access to Iraqi oil fields–ending the thirty-six-year Iraqi oil nationalization policy–as a confirmation of this view. American business and economic interests in oil seem to have had a large role to play in both Iraqi wars.

New Technology

In response to the threat during wartime, typically a nation’s scientists and engineers focus on improving war-related technology, and these inventions or modifications often find applications in the peacetime economy that follows. For example, the eighteenth century French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War produced the long rifle known as the Kentucky rifle. The U.S. Civil War, U.S.;arms industryCivil War saw the development of repeating rifles and ironclad warships. The first military airplanes, tanks, and machine guns made their appearance during World War I. The development and use of the atomic bomb was the most dramatic of a host of new technologies to come out of World War II. Business plays a key role in the development of each new military technology and weapons system and in the production of multiple copies and replacement parts for each successfully developed system. Business also takes the wartime developments and turns them into important civilian goods in peacetime. The American wartime experience is hardly unique in this regard.

By considering the two Iraqi wars as a single conflict with about a decade of low-level military action in between active fighting, it is possible to see innovations more clearly. Some of the weapons and weapons systems were originally developed for use against the Soviet Union during the Cold War;arms industryCold War but had never been tested in combat before. These weapon systems initially seemed unnecessary once the Cold War ended, but the Iraqi wars provided a new justification for many systems.

For example, radar-evading Aircraft industry;Iraqi warsstealth airplanes, such as the B-2 Spirit bomber and F-117 Nighthawk fighter-bomber had been developed during the Cold War but were first battle-tested in Iraq. These stealth aircraft were used in the opening days of the war to knock out radar and communication facilities so that other aircraft could fly over Iraq without fear of being shot down. Both stealth aircraft performed better than expected. Both also represented a staggering number of new technologies, many of which had civilian applications. The radar-deflecting composite coverings that they use have numerous civilian applications. They both use global positioning system (GPS) technology and fly-by-wire flight control systems with wide application in the peacetime world. Although air and land forces have the largest role to play in the Iraqi wars, missiles were launched from naval vessels stationed offshore, the first test of this technology during battle.

Bradley fighting vehicles and M-1 Abrams main battle tanks had been developed for use against the Soviet Union but had never been used in combat until the two Iraqi wars. Each weapons system involves a wide range of new technologies in communications, computerized fire-control systems, infrared night-vision technology, and powerful new engines. Both make use of innovative new metals such as the depleted uranium used in shells and tank armor. Although civilian uses of this equipment are less obvious, they are nonetheless quite real. Businesses are involved not only in creating the military equipment but also in manufacturing new civilian goods.

In the first Gulf War, Hussein’s armed forces used primitive conventional missiles called Scuds, which had sufficient range to reach IsraelIsrael. This was especially dangerous because if the Iraqis had damaged Israel significantly, Israel might have intervened to protect itself, and its intervention might have alienated the Arab countries in the American-led anti-Iraqi coalition. The United States provided additional defenses for Israel in the form of a newly developed but untested Patriot missile air defense system in return for a promise not to intervene. The Patriot was battle-tested by the Israelis during the conflict with generally good results. The experience during the first Iraqi war led to improvements in the system, which greatly expanded its utility in the U.S. military arsenal. Smart bombs using internal guidance systems and global positioning system technologies were tested and improved during the two wars. The Iraqi wars have seen continued improvements in ground-support airplanes, helicopters, and other vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. Still the air war in Iraq is most likely to be remembered for the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). First used only for reconnaissance, improvements made it possible for them to actually take an active combat role by carrying and firing so-called smart bombs and missiles as part of their repertoire.

The two wars also brought about developments in a wide variety of infantry supplies and weapons. The first Iraqi war saw the first deployment of a utility vehicle called a high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (Humvee), which quickly made the transition to civilian life as the country’s most expensive sport utility vehicle (SUV), the Hummer. Numerous small arms innovations occurred, but soldiers probably most appreciated the development of new ceramic plates for use in body armor, new designs in camouflage uniforms, and infrared technologies for use in night vision goggles. All these improvements made infantrymen safer and reduced casualties. When casualties occurred, new emergency medical techniques were employed, and these improvements were quickly incorporated into civilian medical practice. In the process of retreating from Kuwait, the Iraqi army set fire to many of the Kuwaiti oil wells, creating massive fires that required weeks to bring under control. This led to the creation of new environmental technologies and fire-suppression strategies for dealing with the situation.

Privatizing Functions and Provisioning

Beyond these hardware and software improvements, certain innovations in operations have had far-reaching consequences. The Iraqi wars placed a tremendous burden on United States Armed Forces in terms of human resources. One way to solve this problem was to use private corporations to provide certain functions. This need for additional people coincided with an ideological preference for Privatization;Iraq Warprivatization of government on the part of the presidential administrations that managed both wars. The personal and political connections of Vice President Dick Cheney, former head of HalliburtonHalliburton, may have led to the granting of multibillion-dollar no-bid contracts to Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (later KBR) to provide many functions that had previously been the task of noncombat auxiliaries of the Armed Forces. Although private businesses have always played a large role in provisioning the U.S. Armed Forces, the extensive privatization of formerly governmental functions seems dramatically new, especially when the number of civilian contractors exceeds the number of members of the Armed Forces who were in Iraq throughout the second Iraq war.

Another major example of privatization is the use of private quasi-military forces such as those employed in security operations for the State Department and other U.S. government departments in the war zone. The personnel of these private groups are not subject to the laws of war and are therefore immune from prosecution for wrongdoing in ways that U.S. military personnel are not. Some consider this immunity to be a strategic advantage, but others have roundly condemned how these private forces are used. Blackwater USABlackwater USA (later Blackwater Worldwide) was perhaps the most notorious of these private contractor groups because of incidents involving fatalities in 2004 and 2007.

All these changes created a large number of new opportunities for American businesses to participate in both Iraqi wars. Criticism of privatization has been growing, and it is impossible to say whether such practices will continue in the future. It is undeniable, however, that American business will continue to have a very large role in the Iraq War and in any future wars involving Americans.

Further Reading
  • Gordon, Michael R., and Bernard E. Trainor. Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. New York: Vintage Books, 2007. As its title indicates, this book provides a detailed account of the military operations in the overthrow of Hussein’s regime in Iraq and the occupation of the country that followed.
  • Kelly, Orr. King of the Killing Zone. New York: W. W. Norton, 1989. Detailed evaluation of the Abrams main battle tank and many variations.
  • Munro, Alan. Arab Storm: Politics and Diplomacy Behind the Gulf War. London: I. B. Tauris, 2006. The importance of access to oil as a key component of both of the Iraq wars is a central theme of this examination of the diplomacy surrounding Iraq from 1990 onward.
  • Ricks, Thomas E. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. New York: Penguin, 2006. This book is one of the most popular journalistic accounts of the second Iraq war in the administration of President George W. Bush. As the title indicates, the account is very critical, and it deals extensively with the business-related issues of the war.
  • Seahill, Jeremy. Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. New York: Nation Books, 2007. This book provides a critical analysis of the privatization of the military function by the most prominent private military armed force, which the author characterizes as a mercenary army.
  • Smith, Jean Edward. George Bush’s War. New York: Henry Holt, 1992. Journalistic account of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
  • Wright, Steven. The United States and Persian Gulf Security: The Foundations of the War on Terror. Reading, England: Ithaca Press, 2007. This academic book analyzes the foreign policy of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to provide a long-term perspective on both Iraqi wars against the backdrop of U.S. policy toward Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the other countries in the Persian Gulf region.

Asian trade with the United States

Energy crisis of 1979

“Gas wars”

Korean War

Military-industrial complex

Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries

Petroleum industry

Private security industry

Vietnam War

War surplus


Categories: History