The six countries comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates) appear to be publicly contradictory in their dealings with Iraq since the second Gulf crisis of August 1990. In reality, however, they had to adhere to the announced policy of the "international community" represented in U.N. Security Council Resolutions.
The understanding of such relationships, and the potential differences among GCC members, requires a careful analysis of the composition of the GCC itself and the balance of power within the organization. It is also important to emphasize that these relationships are not to be seen only in light of the current crisis, but should be extended to the historical processes that have characterized Iraq's political behavior in dealing with each GCC member. The complete dependence of the countries of the region on oil for the well-being of those countries and the structural linkage between oil and the international economy also have to be emphasized in understanding those relationships.
There are several approaches to understanding the rationale and function of the GCC member states' relationship with Iraq. The first is to be seen through the internal differences among the GCC members themselves, which might be reflected in their relationship with Iraq. The sharp differences within the GCC became one of the main characteristics of the organization, affecting the Council's effectiveness and hindering all major planning. This made the only virtue of the GCC its symbolic existence. Over the last 20 years, the GCC has not been able to solve any major bilateral disagreement arising between members. The latest example of this ineffectiveness is the inability of the GCC to solve border disputes between Qatar and Bahrain over Hewar island. The two countries decided to proceed to the International Court of Justice, disregarding a specific committee that the GCC had established for that particular purpose. The fear of hegemony within the GCC has created subgroupings inside the Council, where member states became highly sensitive to political maneuvers by another member perceived to be harmful to their interest.
The creation of the GCC was seen as a step to neutralize Iraq since it was established immediately after the start of the Iran-Iraq War in September 1980. Since Iraq is a regional power in the Gulf, all major internal differences within the GCC would be reflected in some form or another in the relationship of each individual GCC member state with Iraq.
The second approach is to be seen through a wider regional framework that involves other players in the region like Iran and Yemen as well as the United States. Taking into account the differences within the GCC, Iraq has always played the "balancing" role. With its perceived military power, Iraq was highly placed to play such a role. On the whole, the GCC states (with the slight exception of Oman) contributed heavily to the support of Iraq during its eight-year war with Iran. The perception of Iraq as a potential "regional balancer" still continues.
The third approach is an extension and a result of the first. It deals with the unilateral differences between two or more of the GCC members outside the organizational structure of the GCC. The fourth approach involves economic opportunities. The fifth involves the tendency to play a more independent and neutral role in regional and international politics. The sixth and final approach involves the historical relations between individual GCC members and Iraq.
These six approaches do not have equal weight, and they do not operate in a vacuum. They may operate individually or collectively depending on the circumstances. As a result, the weights of the political components of the equation may differ in intensity (vertical) or in the number of components (horizontal).
A thorough review of the above-mentioned approaches results in categorizing the GCC countries vis-a-vis Iraq on a scale from the most problematic to the least. Kuwait ranks highest in the most problematic category. It could be argued that the closer the geographic proximity to Iraq, the higher a country would be placed on the scale. Saudi Arabia is the second most problematic, Oman is the third and the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar are the least problematic. These last four GCC member states, which have restored full diplomatic ties with Iraq, can afford far greater flexibility in their political discourse regarding Iraq. As a result, they have been able to create a rhetorical policy favoring lifting the sanctions and rehabilitating Iraq.
Since the establishment of modern Iraq in 1920, the issue of Kuwait has been a permanent concern of Iraqi governments, whether the monarchy of King Ghazi and Nouri Al-Said, the republic of General Abdulkarim Qasim or the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. King Ghazi died in a mysterious car accident in 1939, and it was rumored then that Prime Minister Nouri Al-Said was behind it. Later, Al-Said was killed and mutilated in the 1958 coup carried out by General Qasim. Saddam Hussein was among the group of Baathists who almost succeeded in assassinating Qasim in 1959. He was toppled and killed in a successful coup in 1963. Another coup in 1968 secured power for the Baathists.
Although the four leaders differ in their approaches toward the "Kuwait issue," with King Ghazi being the mildest in his demands, Kuwait continued to play a major role in the Iraqi political psyche. It is not clear whether the claims were serious or were made just to distract the Iraqi public from other important issues. King Ghazi and Nouri Al-Said, for instance, put all their efforts into pressure on the British government. Although King Ghazi toyed with the 1938 legislative council in supporting the Free Kuwaitis in their drive for a more open political process, he remained cautious in pushing the situation further. Nouri Al-Said was even more political in his demands and his pressure on the British. Qasim was the first to announce full sovereignty over Kuwait in 1961, when Kuwait declared its independence. But Qasim did not seem to be serious. It took Saddam Hussein, who had just finished an eight-year war with Tran, to implement the move.
The last 80 years of Kuwait-Iraq relations are full of missed opportunities on both sides, with Iraq taking a higher percentage of them. The situation created a paradigm of hidden fear on the Kuwaiti side and political temptation on the Iraqi side. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was part of a process and not an isolated incident. It should not be seen solely as a result of the events 1990. Historically, Iraqi politicians have found it useful to play on Kuwaiti fears whenever necessary.
It seems that the Kuwaiti attitude toward Iraq is guided by fear and mistrust, which Saddam's action only magnified. Such a perception can be easily detected in Kuwaiti rhetoric from the invasion to the present time. Kuwait's behavior has lacked consistency and clarity and reveals an inability to formulate a policy. The legacy of the invasion caused a psychological shock, not only on the official side but also on the popular level. From the start of the Iran-Iraq War (September 1980), Kuwait was a haven for the Iraqi Baath.
This was intensified with the dissolution of parliament in the summer of 1986 and the introduction of press censorship. The Kuwaiti government took full control of the media as a result. Even independent newspapers were fully supportive of Iraq. In reality, the popular support for Iraq was in great part a result of the fear of Iran, which under Islamic revolutionary rule announced the intention of exporting its revolution to the neighboring Gulf states. Iraq and its few but highly visible local Baathists did not waste the golden opportunity to make Saddam Hussein "the Mighty Arab Knight" and "protector of the Eastern gate." The result was a policy of repression and exclusion of Iran supporters and politically active Shia.
The few others who opposed the war (like the author) were branded as sitting in the Persian bunker. The support for Iraq was not restricted to Arab nationalists and Baathists but was joined by the Islamists, who were supporting a non-Islamic secular regime. The support for Iraq was so widespread that Kuwait at that time could easily have been considered an Iraqi province. Several Iraqi intelligence operations took place in Kuwait without any real objection from the Kuwaiti government. A number of Iraqi opposition figures residing in Kuwait were kidnapped and taken back to Iraq.
All in all, the political climate and the security apparatus seem to have been under complete Iraqi control. It was an ideal situation for the Iraqi regime. However, a misperception on the Iraqi side made them believe that such support meant accepting Iraqi rule and becoming part of Iraq. To add insult to injury, the pro-democracy activists in Kuwait (the constitutional movement), which began an active public campaign to put pressure on the government to restore parliamentary rule (from December 1989 to the Iraqi invasion), gave Saddam a mistaken signal that he could depend on this movement in his ambition to annex Kuwait. It soon proved to be a fatal mistake, when even the only Baathist member of the group refused to cooperate with the occupation forces. As a result, he and his family were taken prisoner.
The fear of Iranian threats helped to convince the majority of Kuwaitis that Saddam was the protector of the Gulf, an idea given official approval. Another factor was the active role played by the Iraqi embassy and intelligence service. The documents recovered from the deserted Iraqi embassy in Kuwait showed how penetrating and influential their role was. It is ironic that Saddam decided to annex Kuwait in August 1990, when the country was almost a part of the Iraqi government domain.
Kuwaitis could not comprehend the invasion since a number of prominent individuals publicly went too far in supporting Saddam Hussein. Such enthusiasm made the Kuwaiti government anxious about the trend especially after the end of the Iran-Iraq War. With the invasion and direct contact with Iraqi forces, the feelings were turned upside down. No Kuwaitis cooperated with the occupation forces. Kuwaitis who remained in Kuwait staged one of the most effective civil disobedience campaigns in history with a total boycott of the Iraqi forces (no work, no change of IDs, no change of license plate numbers, etc.) and spontaneously formed an extremely effective network in the neighborhoods for food distribution, money exchange, medical aid, water transportation and even garbage collection. This process created strength from weakness and Kuwaitis quickly learned how to handle the occupation. Thousands of Kuwaitis and other nationalities were taken prisoner (the author was one of them) and were released either through the Iraqi rebels in the south or by the Red Cross.
The occupation of Kuwait, which ended on February 26, 1991, could not help but create a clear Kuwaiti policy regarding Iraq, guided by traumatized feeling rather than a coherent political stance. Kuwait started formulating a policy by setting up a number of security arrangements with the five permanent members of the Security Council, some of which expire this year. The creation of such a policy was complicated by another factor: the position regarding the Arab states that were perceived by Kuwait as siding with Iraq. A popular concept of the "opposite states" was widely used as a metaphor in describing those countries. The concept was not inspired by any official source, but it had a deep impact and symbolic influence. The nationals of those countries were not welcome in Kuwait, and employment opportunities were highly restricted for them. Such a misguided approach had a clear restrictive effect on Kuwaiti diplomacy. This was evidenced in publicized disagreements between the prime minister, who favored such an approach, and the foreign minister, who wanted a more flexible approach. The foreign minister even resigned twice. In the end, full diplomatic relations were restored with the governments of alI the "opposite states" except Yasser Arafat.
This helped in formulating a more coherent policy toward Iraq. The first clement is an insistence that Iraq implement all UNSC resolutions; the second is that the integrity of Iraq be preserved. The third is a non-interference policy in Iraq's internal affairs. The latter caused Kuwait to refuse any Iraqi opposition office inside Kuwait. The only link between Kuwait and the Iraqi opposition continues to be in its public support and high-profile visits by some Iraqi opposition figures. The reluctance of Kuwaiti authorities to have Kuwait used as a base for any serious Iraqi activities against the regime is mainly caused by the Kuwaiti fear of the consequences such actions might create for Kuwait security. The gradual development of Kuwaiti policy toward Iraq, especially after neutralizing the "opposite state" factor, ended up not including the removal of the current regime. The policy, as stated several times by the veteran Kuwaiti foreign minister, includes Iraq's admission that it made a mistake in invading Kuwait, repatriation of the Kuwaiti POWs and the return of stolen goods. Recently, the formula was pushed even further by the announcement by the Kuwaiti defense minister and chairman of the official committee on POWs that he is ready to go to Iraq on his knees if Iraq will consider releasing only 10 percent of the Kuwaiti prisoners. Again, this position by the defense minister was a cause (among other factors) of the minister's submitting his resignation on August 13, 2000.
The latest development in this regard was the famed conference held by the National Assembly on May 13-15, 2000, and organized by the Center of Strategic and Future Studies at Kuwait University. The conference was entitled "The Future Prospects of Kuwaiti-Iraqi Relations." It became a major local, regional and international event. The title itself made a symbolic impact on a potential new trend within the Kuwaiti polity, which attracted wide attention and resulted in more than 173 articles being written about the conference. It was seen as a first move toward restoring relations with Iraq. It was also highly noted that the Kuwaiti foreign minister participated in the conference and gave a balanced opening speech reiterating his sympathy with the suffering of the Iraqi people and citing the above-mentioned elements of his government's policy. The chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee in the parliament as well as the speaker gave speeches calling for more understanding of the relationship. Importantly noted as well was the participation of the Qatari foreign minister, who gave a controversial lecture calling for the rehabilitation of Iraq. All in all, the conference broke taboos. It was also interesting to note that the conference was televised by the official Kuwaiti station and covered widely by the local press.
SAUDI ARABIA AND IRAQ
Saudi Arabia holds the second-most problematic position regarding Iraq. This is caused by their geographic proximity, historical legacy, competition over supremacy in the region and the potential for interference in each other's internal affairs. The famous Uqair conference of 1922 settled the borders between Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait under the full supervision of Sir Percy Cox, the British political resident at the time. Kuwait was the underdog since the emir, then shaikh, Ahmed Aljabir, was not even told about the conference and hence was not represented. Saudi Arabia was represented by its founder, King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, and Iraq was represented by the Minister Sabih Beg Nashat. The Saudis felt they were mistreated by the British favoring of Iraq. Through the years and with the creation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in I 932 under the ambitious King Abdul Aziz, disagreements continued over
Saudi Arabia has always been cautious in dealing with Iraq. The creation of the GCC immediately after the eruption of the Iran-Iraq War can be seen from this angle; Saudi Arabia is the dominant power in the absence of Iraq. Iraqi engagement in the war and the support of the GCC (Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in particular) made Iraq unable to object to its exclusion from the group. The Saudi-Iraqi coordinated efforts during the war brought them closer, to the degree that it was rumored that Saudi Arabia had provided financial support to the Iraqi nuclear program, which had been bombed by the Israelis. Privately, however, the Saudis were said to be satisfied with the fate of the program, in order to deny Iraq's supremacy over the Gulf. The Iran-Iraq War was devastating to all those in the region. The Saudis played a major role in helping put an end to it. The Iraqis and the Saudis wanted a quicker end, while the United States did not favor a conclusion in the summer of 1988. Over this issue and during behind-the-scenes efforts, Saudi-Iraqi relations grew stronger, resulting in the acceptance by Ayatollah Khomeini of UNSC Resolution 598 and a cease-fire.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait, Saudi-Iraqi relations were at their best. The two countries had just signed a non-aggression treaty. Even when Iraq actually invaded Kuwait, Saudi Arabia was slow in responding. It was not until Saudi Arabia felt threatened by the Iraqi move that they acted swiftly, allowing U.S. and allied forces to use Saudi soil to eject Iraq from Kuwait. During the invasion and the war, the Iraqi regime used very harsh words to attack Saudi Arabia, calling Mecca "an American hostage" five times a day during prayer time on Iraqi television and calling King Fahd "the traitor of the two holy mosques." Iraq repeatedly exhorted the Saudis to rebel against their government.
Since the war the relationship has remained at a point of no return. The events at Khafji at the end of the war, when the Iraqis scored a symbolic success on Saudi soil, was the first major threat that the modern Saudi state had encountered since its establishment. Last June, Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal criticized Iraq in his opening remarks of the 75t h Ministerial Council of the GCC. He reiterated his position and that of the GCC that all past efforts to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people have been blocked by a "wall of rejection" from Iraq. He insisted that "opening any dialogue with the regime is conditional on [Saddam Hussein's] commitment to the UNSC resolutions." There is no sign of a change in this policy. However, the inconsistency of U.S. policy, especially the continued bombardment of Iraq, has caused Saudi Arabia to be cautious in supporting such actions.
THE OTHER GCC STATES AND IRAQ
The four GCC members from the upper Gulf have become gradually more flexible toward Iraq. However, all of them are still supportive of the general position of the GCC and the international community in calling on Iraq to comply with UNSC resolutions. Oman, Bahrain, the UAE and Qatar have either kept their diplomatic missions in Baghdad (Oman), or have recently restored diplomatic relations and even raised representation to the ambassadorial level.
Oman in particular has a negative historical legacy with Iraq since the latter supported the ill-fated Dhofar rebellion in the south of Oman, which was completely crushed in the late 1970s. Oman continued to have uninterrupted diplomatic ties with Iraq, even though Oman participated militarily in liberating Kuwait. In justifying his country's policy, the Omani Information Minister Abdulaziz Al-Rowas explained in a recent interview: "The Iraqi issue is governed by international guidelines that no one can change. Oman supports fully the decisions of international legitimacy." He also called on Iraq to apologize to Kuwait for the invasion. He defended his country's keeping diplomatic ties with Iraq by saying, "We do not cut any diplomatic ties with any country. We may freeze them or we may withdraw one of our diplomats but we never cut such relations completely." He thought that Iraq would come back in the end. He emphasized that, "when we open an embassy, we open it with the people. This is our strategy, and all the Arabs know it very well." He also commented on the Kuwaiti parliament's conference on the future prospects of Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations by describing it as "a civilized move and a strategic lesson on how to co-exist with a brotherly neighbor."
The UAE came under attack by the Iraqi leadership on July 1990 over its oil policy. Yet lately the UAE has taken a more positive stand toward Iraq, ending in a full restoration of diplomatic ties. The humanitarian position of the president of the UAE, Shaikh Zayed, is undoubtedly playing a major role. Another reason could be a desire to increase UAE political options in the confrontation with Iran over the islands of Abu Musa and the Tunbs. Economic opportunities were opened wide for the UAE, particularly Dubai, to increase exports to Iraq through the U.N. oil-for-food program. Dubai is probably the main Gulf port benefiting from the program, given the strained Kuwaiti and Saudi relations with Iraq.
Qatar with its youthful leadership is seeking to play a more influential role in regional affairs, especially as a mediator. Involving itself in wider disputes has become a feature of Qatari diplomacy, whether with Sudan or with Hamas or the
Bahrain's relations with Iraq have another historical legacy. A segment of the Bahraini people come from the Ahwaz province in southern Iran and are culturally close to Iraq. Also, Bahrain is the only GCC country with many Baathists. Bahrain is, however, less open in its call for lifting sanctions, although Iraqi suffering is a permanent feature of the Bahraini official line.
Regardless of their individual positions, all GCC members are committed to UNSC resolutions as explained in the final declaration of the GCC Foreign Ministers Council held in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on June 4, 2000. The declaration stated: "The GCC FMC renewed its call on the Iraqi government to prove its good intentions by halting all subversive acts aimed at destabilizing the security and stability of Kuwait and admitting that its invasion of Kuwait was a violation of Arab and international treaties." The communique emphasized the GCC's previous demands on Iraq as the following: quick compliance with UNSC resolution 1284 and allowing the UNMOVIC to function in Iraq, and returning the Kuwaiti prisoners and all stolen goods. On the other side, the communique called for cooperation with all efforts to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people and for the preservation of Iraq 's unity.
Regardless of what appears to be different positions taken by individual GCC members toward Iraq, the reality is that they are all committed to the UNSC resolutions. The different positions of the GCC members are the result of various factors, none of which seem to be directly connected with a new understanding of the Iraqi position. The U.S. failure to bring the Iraqi issue to a conclusive close is one major reason why some GCC members are taking a different path. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait continue to be the most problematic in their relations with Iraq. It was not surprising then that Saddam Hussein in his "day of days" speech commemorating the end of the Iran-Iraq War launched a strong attack on both countries. Later, on August 13, 2000, the highest Iraqi leadership announced the launching of a campaign against the two countries.