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Old 09-23-2019, 01:17 PM
lordroel lordroel is offline
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Default The Second Battle of Britain - a Soviet Sealion (preview)

The Spanish failed in 1588, the French failed in 1803 and the Germans failed in 1940, but now in 1987 the Soviets have succeeded where others have failed, the second Battle for Britain has begun, can the British hold against a Soviet Sealion from the air.

The Second Battle of Britain - a Soviet Sealion


1 – The Battle of Mundford

Taking place on August 28th, 1987, the Battle of Mundford was the first real battle fought on British soil since Culloden more than two hundred and forty years before. During the ongoing war which was less than a week old, and including those which had taken place the day before when the Soviet landings in the UK had occurred, there had been many other engagements with airborne assaults, skirmishes & surprise ambushes. This was nothing like those. Mundford was entirely different.

Significant numbers of British and Soviet troops clashed at fixed point starting early that morning and continuing until the early afternoon. Each had external fire support and the promise of reinforcement to include what they already brought to the battle. The fight at this little village in the western, inland half of Norfolk occurred as the invading Soviets moved southwards away from their airheads which they had taken with paratroopers and then transported airmobile units into. The British moved to block them here, using the village as a barricade. Mundford became the scene of the battle which transpired because it was located at a crossroads where two major roads running across East Anglia met. The fight could easily have taken place elsewhere yet Mundford was the unfortunate location for this serious engagement.

The Battle of Mundford would be bloody as well as strategically significant.

British troops reached Mundford first, getting there just before dawn. Overnight, a battalion of regular infantry had deployed from their Oakington base down in Cambridgeshire. This was the first battalion of the Worcestershire & Sherwood Foresters Regiment (1 WSFR). They were short a company which had been sent to Cyprus a few months ago though had received a large number of reservists when at Oakington during preparations to deploy to the Continent and join the fight in West Germany. Delays due to enemy action had affected that planned move and then there had came the Soviet landings yesterday. The battalion linked up with some engineers from nearby Waterbeach on the way and then met a dozen or so Home Service Force (HSF) volunteers who’d established a blocking position already at Mundford. Those part-timers only had old rifles as their weaponry – yet one of them was a retired engineer trained in safe munitions destruction who’d instead wired up quite the improvised device to blow a nearby bridge on command – and wouldn’t have stood a chance in holding here without the arrival of the 1 WSFR. Other HSF men had, like RAF Regiment & Royal Auxiliary Air Force personnel too, been massacred when going up against Soviet paratroopers already. Now, more than eight hundred well-armed British Army soldiers turned up. The 1 WSFR brought with them armoured vehicles and heavy weapons such as anti-tank missile launchers, mortars, rockets & big machine guns. There was air support on-call for them with the assurance that a battery of artillery was to reach Mundford by the late afternoon. The men started digging themselves fighting positions once here while their commander put his scouts and recon units out. His orders were to hold until relieved: Mundford wasn’t to be lost to the enemy.

There had been hostile interference from both UK but also NATO armed forces elements with regards to the Soviets getting their men into Norfolk. They had several airheads now though which included four airbases, an airport, two civilian airstrips and a coastal heliport. Transport aircraft had been flying in men, equipment and stores. The airborne division tasked for the Norfolk mission was a light armoured unit. Therefore, getting their vehicles in had been important. Some helicopters had arrived too. The divisional commander instructed that this morning two of his three combat-manoeuvre regiments start moving forward regardless of the disorganised state they and everyone else was in. There was an advance made in the east and then another in the west. Mundford was identified as somewhere to be taken but also a likely British blocking point. Strong opposition wasn’t supposed to be encountered – not today anyway – but the commanding general wasn’t about to take the chance on that. Beyond Mundford lay his ultimate divisional objectives, many more airbases & military facilities to be captured, and he wanted them taken as soon as possible. The 237th Guards Airborne Regiment, men who’d fought on the Weser River on the war’s first morning against the West Germans, before then engaging British airbase guards here in Norfolk yesterday, was tasked to go to Mundford. Two battalion-sized task forces were assembled and given the order to get going. They had armoured vehicles carrying some paratroopers though others were to move in captured civilian transport as well. Air support was provided for the 237th Guards too: aircraft and helicopters using already seized British facilities.

A pair of Mil-24V attack helicopters arrived over Mundford first. NATO called this helicopter the ‘Hind’; the Soviets considered them ‘flying tanks’. They raced low towards Mundford and opened fire on spotted British forces. Each Hind had several heavy guns mounted as well as deployable rockets and missiles. They were well-armoured themselves and flown by experienced crews. Blowpipe missiles were fired up against them. These did as terrible as expected. No hits were achieved by those shoulder-mounted weapons nor from the mass of small arms fire either. The helicopters eventually flew off, going back to the captured RAF West Raynham to rearm & refuel. They’d reported in on what they had seen as well as attacked and would return when the main ground attack went in. Behind them, they left many dead and wounded on the ground. A couple of FV432 armoured personnel carriers had been hit as well as two of the Ferret scout cars. Troops dug-in suffered only a few casualties but they had occurred. There were also civilians killed and hurt. Mundford had seen most of its residents leave yet a few hadn’t. They paid for that mistake gravely.

Columns of armoured vehicles rolled in towards Mundford from the north and the northwest. These were lightweight tracked vehicles in Soviet Airborne Troops service. The BMD-1 armoured assault vehicles, BTR-D armoured personnel carriers and 2S9 self-propelled mortars were all constructed of aluminium alloy though with steel armour around key areas. Crew and passenger conditions were cramped and dangerous should the vehicles be attacked. Morale was good among the paratroopers here and they went into battle expecting victory. No one had stopped them before and there was no belief that anyone could today either. The British saw them coming. There were 1 WSFR recon units out but a helicopter was assigned from Eastern Command (the higher headquarters for home defence of this region of Britain) and this nimble little Gazelle AH1 danced around the sky. It dropped down low when needed – avoiding those Hinds – and then came back up too. A paratrooper armed with a man-portable missile riding atop one of the BTR-Ds coming down the A1065 road fired on the Gazelle and missed it. No such good luck for the Army Air Corps crewmen aboard was had the second time around when from the other column, the one following the A134, another missile was lofted and this blew them out of the sky. The tail rotor was blown off in addition to major damage done elsewhere. Out of control, the helicopter fell to the ground and then blew up on impact. A sighting report had been called in just before that loss though.

Close to Mundford on the A1065 – the road ran up to the town of Swaffham; civilians from there had fled through Mundford and told of an entry by armed invaders – there was a bridge over the River Wissey. That waterway was nothing much and neither was the road-bridge but it represented a possible barrier. When the first BMD started making its way over the river below, an explosion rocked that bridge. The charge planted by that HSF engineer had been ‘improved’ by professionals. No longer was it just an incendiary device going off but now a full-scale demolition of the bridge. In West Germany, men with the 237th Guards had spent their initial time after landing there making sure that NATO plans to blow bridges over the Weser (a major water barrier) couldn’t be destroyed as intended to block the tanks of the Soviet Army advancing on the Low Countries. Here in the British countryside, they hadn’t expected such a thing to be done and especially not an attack against them like this. That BMD with eight paratroopers aboard was utterly destroyed and the remains of it fell into the Wissey below. The column behind came to a halt. Men started exiting them and deploying into fighting positions. They came under fire. British troops used machine guns on them as well as mortars too. As to the vehicles, several started moving off road to the sides of backing up once the paratroopers had jumped out. MILAN missiles started firing. The 1 WSFR was trained to do this on the battlefield of West Germany: they fought their first fight here in Norfolk instead. Several hits were achieved. The MILANs made short work of the lightweight vehicles. The ambush was going well. Yet, these weren’t ‘green’ opponents for the British. The Soviets recovered fast. They fired back across the river with the paratroopers using their own heavy weapons in addition to cannon fire from the armoured vehicles. The southern riverbank was blasted soon by artillery too. There were towed guns trailing behind a few of the BTR-Ds and a pair of them was quick in action. High-explosive shells from the D-30 howitzers exploded on contact with the trees and the ground. In addition, those 2S9 mortar carriers opened fire first with air-burst rounds to rain shrapnel down before other shells exploded in the sky too unleashing a different type of weapon. Chemical weapons had been employed on the Continent against British troops and also used against the mainland UK too: Heathrow Airport being the highest-profile target of them. Now nerve gas was deployed near Mundford.

Troops from both sides were in NBC suits and armoured vehicles had overpressure systems. Regardless, there were casualties caused by use of the chemical weapons here. The Soviets put into play GB: oft-known as Sarin. This nerve gas was quite the deadly weapon. It could cause fatalities by either being inhaled or entering the body’s other orifices, even being absorbed through the skin. The use of conventional explosives and bullets first meant that some of the fighting men had their suits torn while others lay injured. There were other soldiers who didn’t have their protective gear sealed properly. Soviet paratroopers backed away from being near to the banks of the Wissey once the gas was in the air. Their British opponents weren’t given that early warning and took the enemy action as a withdrawal. Then the effects of the gas took hold. Scenes of hell unfolded among those the Sarin got to. The majority of the Britons were safe from the gas yet around them they watched as it took its evil toll among those unlucky ones. Among all of this, seemingly to add to the hell, though in reality doing what needed to be done to win this fight, the Soviets fired more conventional shells too. They only had a few gas-filled shells for their mortars but plenty of high-explosives. More of the howitzers fired. This caused more casualties first from direct effects of the explosions and then the gas attacked now exposed British soldiers. If they’d been in West Germany, the men from one of the company groups of the 1 WSFR (the battalion had formed mixed-arms task groups) would have faced the same sort of attack there… yet who would have ever thought it would occur here?

Though the gas was going to be the deciding factor in making sure that the British were broken in trying to stop the Soviet column coming down the A1065 road, the advance there was stalled. That column had run into trouble and was halted. However, the second column, following the A134 and moving towards Mundford from the northwest, wasn’t brought to a stop. The regimental colonel with the 237th Guards had his paratroopers there cross a stretch of the Wissey downstream and some distance away from Mundford at a road-bridge without incident. He also had his men secure far smaller secondary crossings elsewhere throughout a stretch of the countryside just in case. The armoured vehicles moving on Mundford and what he believed were British regulars there – he relied on the Hind pilot reports, not the divisional intelligence staff’s dangerous optimism – ploughed onwards with him following behind the attack column in a command vehicle. He had his maps & radios and was in contact with the major in charge up ahead. Several villages were passed through as the road wound its way towards Mundford. Plenty of those could have provided excellent ambush positions. The British didn’t have the troops though: so many were doomed by their participation in the near-finished fight over on the Continent.

The distance closed before Mundford was to be reached. Part of the column was ordered to break away to the right, off the main road. Half a dozen vehicles followed a country lane as the 237th Guards still sought to make a several-pronged attack rather than all being bunched up. Contact was made with the British soon afterwards. Between the village of Northwold and the hamlet of Cranwich, shots were exchanged. The 1 WSFR had a recon platoon with their Scimitars. These tracked armoured vehicles were similar to the BMDs that the Soviets had though had a smaller main gun and no troop capacity. The British knew how to make good use of them though where their 30mm rapid-fire guns opened up on several approached enemy vehicles and there were man-portable MILAN detachments brought into play again. The ambush didn’t go as planned. The Soviets didn’t back off from the fight and instead rushed forward while spreading out to return fire. Soviet advantage in numbers on the ground was added to by what they had in the air. 1 WSFR was promised air support like the 237th Guards had been but only for the latter did that show up. Coming out of RAF Sculthorpe, held by the Soviet Airborne, were a trio of attack-fighters. Sukhoi-25s (Frogfoots to NATO) raced in across the morning sky, opening fire with guns, rockets and missiles like the Hinds had done earlier. They were preforming the shturmovik role as done by Ilyushin-2s in the last world war. The first pass of the trio – a fourth had been unable to get off the ground at Sculthorpe – did a lot of damage and then they came back again. Along with a BMD killed in a friendly fire incident, all four Scimitars were eventually hit by the Frogfoots. In return, the British managed to hit one with a Blowpipe and that aircraft flew away trailing smoke yet the damage had been done. 1 WSFR riflemen and the MILAN teams they protected had lost their armoured support. Soviet paratroopers moved against them but others re-mounted their vehicles and moved onwards. The outlying defences of Mundford facing northwest were lost.

The Soviet regimental commander had been intending to bring his returning Hinds into that fight but when it was won as quick as it was, he re-tasked them to go back to Mundford again. They swooped around the main British positions and came in from the south using the forest there for cover. A stand-off attack was made with anti-armour missiles fired from distance before rockets were used again. This came right at the wrong moment for the British, right when the 1 WSFR’s commander was moving about his forces internally to cover the A134 road approaches as he took some men from those facing directly north. Serious casualties were taken. He echoed what many of his junior officers and fighting men had done in uselessly shouting demands for the promised air cover.

Where was the RAF!?

Now the assault on Mundford began properly and the real battle commenced.

The larger and smaller columns of Soviet armour re-converged back on the main road when that breakaway detachment made a navigation error: this was truly unknown ground to be going through and the maps were poor. Rather than split them up once again, and delay things, there was a continuation forward as one though everyone spread out. The BMDs were almost in a straight line moving on Mundford. From behind, the 2S9s lofted mortar rounds forward – using high-explosive at the moment; gas would be used later if needed – while the towed D-30s were getting set up. British fire came towards the Soviets and this was returned. There were two more Scimitars (a further two were on the Wissey) as well as the machine gun armed FV432s and Ferrets. The British had no tanks here though. There were plenty of infantry weapons with more MILANs, 81mm mortars and machine guns which were used to fire on the Russians as they came forward. Multiple engagements occurred as the Soviets refused to bunch up to be easier taken on. They had the fired from their artillery and mortars as well as what the BMDs brought into play with their 73mm cannons. Moreover, their own riflemen had man-portable weapons which they used too.

Under the weight of numbers and firepower, the British fell back. They moved closer to Mundford as initial firing positions were abandoned to fallback ones. Many men were killed or wounded during the tactical withdrawals. There were Soviet paratroopers falling down too yet the British were taking more losses. Among the gunfire, there were explosions which took more lives as well. Armoured vehicles on each side were hit but there were also blasts along the British fighting positions and then into Mundford itself. These remained of the high-explosive nature until the 237th Guards’ commander had enough of the delay in getting there and ordered Sarin used once more alongside the conventional rounds as well. He hoped to maybe get the enemy’s battalion command post or failing that hit British reinforcements being moved internally. Neither aim was met. Instead, casualties being evacuated were engulfed by the gas and so too were the men of an arriving column of Royal Artillery gunners bringing with them Javelin man-portable air defence missiles. They’d arrived late and died horribly before they saw any action.

The command post for the 1 WSFR was a collection of several specially converted FV432s and Sultan tracked vehicles. The overpressure systems were on to protect those inside but they weren’t located where the gas was being used. Stretching south from Mundford down into Suffolk was the Thetford Forest. It provided good cover from observation. The trees didn’t affect radio-waves though. The battalion net was under attack. The Soviets were unleashing their electronic warfare units with radio jamming being used against the 1 WSFR. Only one of the three company groups was able to be contacted. There was still communication with higher headquarters though at any time that could be cut off too. The battalion commander was informed that air support was now incoming. There was a flight of Tornado tactical bombers inbound. His RAF liaison officer stood ready to direct them to put their bombs onto the enemy in what was sure to be a significant attack. However, it was only C Company on the Wissey – a third of which had already been pulled away from there – which could be contacted. A & E Companies (the latter being formed of reservists because the regular B Company was overseas) were those who needed that air support. There was no accurate information on where the enemy was, especially those elements which needed to be knocked out of 1 WSFR was to avoid defeat. All that could be done was to have the Tornados which came from RAF Cottesmore over in Rutland (part of a training unit) drop their bombs to the west of Mundford in the last reported locations of the Soviets. The hope was that they would hit something. It was the only thing to do short of telling them to not bother to make an attack.

The 237th Guards took losses from the Tornados. They dropped unguided bombs when making a low-level high-speed pass and stuck the heavy guns aiding the attack against the British. Those D-30s shouldn’t have stayed in their initial positions for as long as they had yet the Soviets had yet to move them because they faced no counter-battery fire in addition to having seen the loss of many BTR-Ds used as transport them in the face of MILAN attacks. Half of the Soviets guns were knocked out with gun crews taking major casualties as well. Several missiles shot up towards the Tornados and there was an air defence version of the BTR-D present. This vehicle mounted an autocannon with twin barrels for the 23mm guns. A huge amount of fire power was put into the sky to go after the RAF jets, aircraft which were nowhere near as armoured as the Soviet Frogfoots. Two of four Tornados were hit with one of those taking light damage but the other coming off badly. It flew away from the battlefield though would crash before it could make it back to Cottesmore or any other friendly airbase.

The commander of those paratroopers fighting the British, the colonel in his command track, had come pretty close to getting killed himself by the RAF bomb run. Their bombs rocked his vehicle. There was also someone seemingly banging a hammer several times on the left-hand side. But that wasn’t a hammer, was it? Nope, it was shrapnel and bomb debris. He was too damn close to the fighting! His immediate thinking was that the British had targeted him as well as his guns. The knowledge that there were serious communications issues, caused by his comrades elsewhere, affecting his opponent wasn’t something that he had. If that had been the case, he would have still had ordered what he did. That was to instruct his men at the front to continue pushing onwards and keep close contact with the British on the ground. That would negate any air power of theirs. It wouldn’t stop his own though. The Hinds were coming back for a third time. They only had shells and rockets this time – the stocks of missiles brought into the UK so far weren’t that great – but it was enough to do the job.

With those flying tanks and what was left of the heavy guns plus mobile fire support, the Soviets made their final push on Mundford.

They took the village and overcame the 1 WSFR in doing it.

One big major attack, coming in from a wide frontage, won the day for the 237th Guards. A hasty, weak British counterattack at the last minute couldn’t stop them. Fighting positions were overrun and trenches entered. There were several buildings which the defenders had tried to fortify but these were blasted to bits rather than being physically taken by paratroopers moving into them. As the main resistance started to collapse, many British soldiers made a run for it. This was no time for heroics, they reasoned, not when being beaten as they were. Plenty of them suffered from the lingering effects of gas though some did make it into the forest. The BMDs which moved into Mundford didn’t follow them into the trees but instead secured the crossroads. They were ready to go southwards when ordered though before then turned their attention towards the now surrounded British troops still on the Wissey. There would be some fighting there before an improvised white flag was waved. A British Army captain came forward to surrender the men under his command. He had about thirty unwounded and about fifty wounded men.

Elsewhere, on the western edges of Mundford and in the village, others sought to make themselves prisoners. Weapons were put down and arms were raised. Soviet Airborne Troops were often noted for their professionalism and discipline yet there were exceptions to this. After a hard-fought fight such as Mundford had been where paratroopers lost their friends, anger was taken out on a defeated enemy. Several prisoners were shot. Sergeants and officers regained control quick enough and stopped the murders before the numbers got serious though didn’t move to halt other instances of ill-discipline where British soldiers were robbed of possessions and also beaten about a bit. The men were letting off some steam, the excuse was made, and it was allowed as long as there was no serious disorder.

Those remaining prisoners were moved out of Mundford itself. The place had been doused with that gas. Traces of the chemicals remained on the ground and elsewhere if no longer in the air. The sights of many of the bodies after the nerve gas had killed them was unsettling to the victorious paratroopers. These men had seen war before yet this was different. Watches, belts and contents of pockets from those corpses weren’t raided. When he arrived in the village, the Soviet regimental colonel made sure that there was a chemical decontamination unit on the way but his main focus was making sure that his men were ready to fight again. The British could counterattack on the ground or send aircraft in here. He wanted prisoners transported out. The GRU team of military intelligence specialists who arrived following him were told to find the British battalion HQ. They quickly reported back that – from harsh prisoner interrogations – that they had been told that it had never been in Mundford itself. The colonel looked towards the forests. So… he’d have to send men in there, would he?

The British were already gone. When the battalion’s fighting elements were lost, the HQ element and the supporting units inside the Thetford Forest departed their position. It wasn’t cowardice, it wasn’t running away. They had to leave less they be lost too. ‘Hold until relieved’ hadn’t meant a sacrifice such as that. If it had been done, there would have men not killed in the certain defeat who too would have fallen into enemy captivity and some of them would be very valuable prisoners for the Soviets. Of course, the shame of what they did would still remain with those who managed to escape with their lives from the Battle of Mundford when so many others hadn’t. That was a given.

Short of an hour later, after the battle was over, the RAF returned to the lost Mundford.

Tornados arrived again, once more making a daring dash in low and fast. They dropped several bombs over the Soviets there, big ones, and flew away unmolested by Soviet air defences. There was hope that they had done significant damage to the 237th Guards. This wasn’t just done out of spite by the British after losing but because of where the Soviets now were. They had Mundford in their hands. That regiment which had won the battle, joined by other divisional elements of those invaders who had successfully got into Britain, were in a position to move southwards from there. The deployment of the 1 WSFR to that village, unsupported because it was taking time to get more troops to East Anglia, was meant to stop this but had failed so therefore, the RAF made this attack and would be making more.

Soviet paratroopers had won the Battle of Mundford. They’d opened up the way ahead successfully. It had cost them but a win was a win, especially when inflicting a major defeat on their opponents.

What was next?

Moreover, how had all of this – the invasion of the UK mainland and before that the world war which was still raging – happened?

How had it come to this?
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Old 02-13-2020, 12:15 PM
lordroel lordroel is offline
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Part One - Crisis in the Gulf

2 – Saddam bites the dust

Almost two years beforehand, back in November 1985, a massive explosion rocked the Iraqi city of Basra. A pair of Lebanese men, volunteers for a cause which they saw as the highest, drove an explosive-laden truck into Basra going through a crowd of people in their way. Those civilians were their fellow ethnic Shia, their fellow believers. That was unfortunate but all of those who lost their lives in this attack would, so believed their killers, be judged by the almighty with the deserving seeing heaven. The man at the centre of the crowd, on a stage where bodyguards leaped into action around him, wouldn’t be getting a divine reward like the worthy would. He was being dragged off the stage where he was addressing the people present when the truck-borne bomb detonated. What a blast it was! Those who arranged for this attack had been those involved in making the strikes using a similar method of employing explosives as had been done in Beirut two years previous. It was in many ways a fuel-air bomb. Iranian nationals acting for Hezbollah had committed that infamous act in 1983; in 1985, Lebanese-born Hezbollah volunteers repaid the favour for Iran.

Saddam Hussein, the President of Iraq, was the target in Basra. Like the US Marines and French paratroopers in Beirut, he was slain mercilessly in this act of state-sponsored terrorism.

For the two following days, the Iranians weren’t sure if they had killed him. He could have survived or maybe they had slain one of his reputed doubles used for public appearances. The explosion in Basra was something noted by intelligence agencies from other countries. America’s CIA, the Soviet’s KGB, British MI-6, French DGSE and the Israeli Mossad all sought information. Some of that was contradictory or just wild speculation. A picture started to emerge though: it became increasingly likely that Saddam was dead. Iraq, a highly centralised country in terms of power and in the middle of a war with Iran, had been left rudderless by the assassination of its dictatorial leader.

A power struggle erupted inside Iraq. It was one which would very quickly turn violent. As was the case with uncertainty over in Iran, inside Iraq there too was ambiguity over whether Saddam had been killed. It took some time for this to be confirmed. Those who knew the earliest were quickest to try to seize power for themselves. Saddam had never anointed a successor – a fatal move for any dictator – but there were those within Iraq who had coveted his position when he was alive and now sought to gain it following his demise.

Four high-profile figures began a battle to take the reins of power.

Saddam’s eldest son, the twenty-one-year-old Uday Hussein, believed he was the natural heir of his father when it came to the country’s leadership. By virtue of his birth, nothing more, Uday sought to step into the dead father’s shoes. Many would consider him a psychopath and Uday would quickly find that there was little support for him taking over just based on nothing more than just a blood connection.

An uncle of Uday’s was Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti. He was a half-brother to the deceased Saddam and headed up Iraq’s intelligence service. Another brutal figure, though someone skilled at it rather than clumsy like his nephew, al-Tikriti likewise found that once Saddam was gone, there were few who were willing to see him in charge of the nation. Who wanted someone with so much blood on his hands and who had made so many enemies?

General Ra’ad Rashid al-Hamdani was a senior military officer with connections to the regime. He was a political general who’d reached such a rank at a very young age. Not a brute like others, Hamdani was known for his somewhat jovial character. He was efficient not so much at military matters but maintaining the balancing act of being a political general. Saddam had trusted him, which led to much jealousy from elsewhere within the regime. He had enemies which he had no idea that he had, people who never would have spoken of their hatred while Saddam was alive.

Finally, there was another but more respected military man. General Maher Abd al-Rashid had political connections too – his daughter had married Saddam’s youngest son, Qusay – but he really was ‘army’ instead of a boot licker. He knew his business of soldiering. Considered a potential rival by Saddam, a few years past he had nearly met a grizzly end early in the Iran-Iraq War for criticising the president and political interference in that conflict. A military mutiny had loomed when the threat to Rashid came though and Saddam had blinked: his general had gone back to the front and corrected a terrible strategic situation. Rashid was someone who those in uniform would follow.

Through assassinations, kidnappings, blackmail, dubious loyalties and the threat of a civil war, Rashid won out in the fight to replace Saddam. He had the backing of the military. This won out over the regime’s intelligence apparatus plus the political infrastructure of the Ba’ath Party where they didn’t have that support of men with guns who would follow orders. Hamdani came onside with his fellow general but the two other challengers for the leadership, Uday and al-Tikriti, lost their lives in the fighting: Qusay got over the demise of his brother quickly and would have to get used to the new way things were less he wanted to join Uday in a shallow, lonely grave.

The war with Iran had started because Saddam wanted it to. There were historic issues with Iran that Iraq long had yet it was all about his personal ambition to lead the Arab world. He had launched a war of aggression against revolutionary Iran aiming for a quick victory. That hadn’t come. What instead there was, was a stalemate which took tens of thousands lives and cost Iraq plenty of treasure too. If he believed that there was a still a cause to fight for, Rashid would have continued the war. But there was no cause that he saw to make any more of this worth it for the Iraq he wanted to lead and him personally.

As the New Year came, now secure in power, Rashid made diplomatic approaches to Iran. He used both Omani and Swiss intermediaries to contact the Iranian leadership – the civilian and religious structures – to request an end to the fighting. It would take some time to do so and there would be many more deaths before the guns fell silent. However, on February 14th 1986, the Iran-Iraq War was over with.

Peace wasn’t about to return to the Middle East though.

3 – Erstwhile friends in the Gulf

Peace with Iran gave post-Saddam Iraq nothing in return. There was an exchange of prisoners of war – many who had been captured didn’t return home though and those who did were in a terrible state – and a withdrawal from what little territory of the other that each held. A re-establishment of full diplomatic relations was promised as well yet that was about it. Rashid had only achieved what could be considered a status quo ante bellum: a return to the situation before the war. Iraq still remained beset by the problems it had before the fighting ceased. That end of the war didn’t do much to solve those.

Rashid tried though. Iraq was his now and he sought to affect changes to the country which he had inherited. He would crack down hard on the continuing internal rebellion with the Kurds and others as well as trying to repair Iraq’s armed forces. Moreover, Rashid moved to fix Iraq’s international relations. With the war over with, Iraq sought an end to the sanctions imposed upon it by the world community. Those had been imposed against the actions of Saddam, he had his diplomats state in contacts with their counterparts, and there was no need for them to continue. They were crippling Iraq and had left a once prosperous nation almost bankrupt.

It was to the West that Rashid looked in the early months of his regime. Iraq had plenty of oil to sell and the hungry West had always been a market for the black gold which came out the desert. There was some success in this where many nations were willing to ease back on the sanctions though not fully bring them to an end. It wasn’t just the war with Iran which had brought them in the first place but also Saddam’s actions against the Kurds. Rashid didn’t use chemical weapons like his predecessor had done yet there was no soft touch when it came to this important fight against internal rebellion. It was the opinion of some of his advisers, one which Rashid was soon convinced of too, that the West was only using the Kurds as an excuse. They didn’t really give a fig for the fate of such people now or at any time before. There was more to this where their oil companies and commodities traders were dictating the actions of their political puppets. Iraq was willing to open up the floodgates to sell its oil yet Baghdad would be setting the price for that oil, not those in New York and London. This caused the issue on those capitalist markets who had the politicians in their pockets. Rashid too saw the hand of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab Monarchies in what was going on with this international oil conspiracy that was taking place against Iraq.

Those countries had funded the war against Iran to stop the extremism of the Shia mullahs from infecting their predominately Sunni nations. In Riyadh and elsewhere, the sheikhs didn’t want their Shia minorities to rise up and thus had paid for Iraq’s war to keep Iranian influence contained… via the dead of Iraq’s youth. Meanwhile, those countries had been working with the West to keep the price of oil low and plenty of it on the international market all as part of a complicated international scheme against the Soviet Union’s own oil trades. Saddam’s death and Rashid’s intentions to sell Iraqi oil threatened to upturn the applecart here. The countries which professed friendship to Iraq here in the Middle East, with envoys flocking to Baghdad, displayed a willingness to not upset their own situation and thus, by extension, keep Iraq down. They were doing all for the benefit of superpower games as well! To the Saudi’s especially, Iraq owed a lot of money. The loans given to Iraq during the war with Iran were issues raised by those diplomatic envoys sent to see Rashid by Iraq’s neighbours. Though a detailed examination of what was said, he understood that those countries wanted Iraq to start repaying them. They weren’t demanding all the money up front but they wanted repayment to begin. Among all of this, when the matter was raised by Rashid and his own people he had put into diplomatic roles after getting rid of Saddam’s people – Tariq Aziz was the highest profile figure given the boot, replaced by a military officer – of Iraq’s regional erstwhile allies supporting lifting the last of those sanctions, he found they linked that to a repayment of debts.

Putting the slap in the face aside, which Rashid wasn’t going to do, Iraq was being put in an impossible situation. Iraq couldn’t reimburse those other countries unless there was full access to the international oil markets. Full access of the oil trade would only come when debt repayment begun. Who need enemies when you have ‘friends’ like these?

Under Saddam, Iraq had been considered by many outsiders to be Soviet-friendly. This wasn’t the case. There had been arms deals done where the Soviet Union had supplied weapons to Iraq during the war with Iran yet other countries – such as France and China too – had done the same. Iraqi internal measures taken against domestic communists had always been a point of contention with the Soviets too. Yet, many Iraqi geo-political goals across the Third World were in alignment with that of the Soviets. These were of the nature of having a shared anti-West character rather than any form of alliance. Iraq’s outward political position of Arab socialism was seen as an abomination in Moscow too. Nonetheless, in many eyes, Iraq was friendly to the Soviet Union. Covert support from several Western nations, including the United States, even while supporting sanctions against Iraq, had come because there was a concern among those who understood the complicated real picture on this that Saddam might take his country into the Soviet camp out of desperation. Hurting Iran was another factor in this too but keeping Soviet influence out of the Middle East had greater importance.

Rashid found that the West was only willing to treat him as they had treated Saddam. They would change nothing and treat Iraq’s new leader like they treated the old one. The Soviet Union though took a different approach. An opportunity had opened up in Baghdad and it was one cautiously probed. Moscow didn’t want to get its fingers burnt in Iraq but there was a move to see what could be exploited with this. They found that Rashid had no interest in going as far as Saddam had done with domestic communists. Moreover, he showed an interest in working to further international goals that both Baghdad and Moscow shared. He wasn’t about to roll over and turn Iraq into a Soviet client state but there was a repairing of relations underway.

This relationship grew through the middle of 1986 as Iraq’s relations with its neighbours stayed where they were. Those countries continued to grow rich while conspiring with the West to keep the Soviets in-check and by extension hurting Iraq too. Rashid found the position of the Saudis, those in Kuwait, in Bahrain, in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to be anti-Iraq the longer the situation continued. They wouldn’t budge an inch in any practical manner despite proclamations of their friendship.

Friendship!? Only the Soviets were showing Iraq any sign of that.

4 – The Devil you don't know

The interests of foreign powers, friends and foes alike, hurt the Rashid-led Iraq yet the growing domestic problems through 1986 when the country was at peace were, at the end of the day, the consequences of their new leader’s actions. There had been a significant demobilisation of troops – Iraq still maintained a large army despite this – and there was also the liberalisation of some of the worse excesses of Saddam-era internal dissent suppression. These two actions, returning men to the civilian economy and allowing for opposition forces (the Iraqi Communist Party in particular) to be let off the leash, combined in unforeseen circumstances.

When war was raging with Iran, Saddam had allowed for the entry into Iraq of foreign workers. These came from select Arab countries though also from parts of Africa and Asia. They generally did the low-skilled jobs that Iraqis themselves didn’t want to do even without the large numbers of men in uniform. The return to civilian life of so many soldiers created a crisis in the Iraqi job market. Rashid had intentions to provide for Iraqi soldiers who had faced so much horror on the battlefield and government measures decreed that there would be favouritism in the workplace for them. The foreign workers were supposed to get the boot and the demobilised soldiers would take their jobs. This all worked fine in theory but not in reality. There was the issue of employers favouring the foreign workers who they could pay less & not treat well, the fact that the returning soldiers might not wish to do these jobs & instead do something better and also the issue with internal Iraqi corruption. Rashid’s military officers had replaced Ba’athists across the nation but they had quickly learnt how to enrich themselves like their predecessors.

The Communists were fast to latch onto this issue. They played all sides: the foreign workers, the soldiers-turned-civilians, the employers and even the military officers. Other opposition groups in Iraq were unable to make anything out of this yet the Communists, allowed to function because Baghdad was scoring brownie points with Moscow, were involved. There were riots and disturbances. Some of this was organised by troublemakers but in other places it took on a life of its own. The warm summer and the general malaise of post-war Iraq left much of the country, especially urban areas, ripe for violence. Those at the very bottom of the rung in terms of having any power or protection, the foreign workers of a non-Arab origin, suffered the most. Those others who feared that the mob might turn on them joined in when attacking the lowest of the low. However, there were still instances where this wasn’t always the case and there was violence directed against Arab workers and unscrupulous employers too.

Rashid couldn’t stand for this. In his capital, there was blood running in the streets as mobs ran rampant. Parts of Baghdad were up in flames too. He flooded the streets with soldiers in the end. Order needed to be restored! This was done but it was costly. Neither did the end of the shooting solve the underlying issues.

Moreover, the Iraqi Riots led to further diplomatic woes. Many of those foreign nations didn’t really care about their workers whom had gone to Iraq and now suffered death or injury but several did – or pretended they did, Rashid believed – and made official diplomatic complaints. Egypt was at the forefront of this. Rashid was at the time involved in discussions with President Mubarak as he sought help from the Egyptian leader when it came to getting the Saudis & the Gulf Arab Monarchies to ‘see sense’ on their financial dispute with Iraq. The deaths of many Egyptians on Iraqi streets led to a break in those contacts and a diplomatic cooling with Cairo.

There was the hand of the Soviet KGB in the activities of the Iraqi Communist Party. A revolution in Iraq wasn’t being sought but there was meddling done just to stir the pot a little to see what the outcome might be. Those on the Politburo in Moscow weren’t all made aware of this factor in what occurred in Iraq. The general direction being sought by the Soviet leadership was to extend a hand of friendship to Iraq and continue to improve relations: aiding in fermenting domestic unrest wasn’t part of that.

Iraqi-Soviet friendship through ’86 was something that others were becoming aware of when it came to military matters. There were port visits to Iraq – which had a tiny coastline at the mouth of the Persian Gulf – by Soviet Navy warships and then flying from Iraqi airfields were Soviet military aircraft taking part in exercises which too saw them out in the Gulf. The first instance of this Soviet presence was put down to a one-off event elsewhere but when it was repeated several times, it became rather alarming. Both Iran and Iraq were the devil you know as far as the neighbouring countries were concerned but the Soviets were something else. These countries, each oil-rich though with extremely weak military forces despite some fancy equipment, found themselves feeling even more concerned than they had long been. They had financed Iraq’s war to contain Iranian extremism before suddenly seeing that ended unexpectedly. They were also involved in an American-sponsored scheme, which had Egyptian participation too, to help aid the Afghan rebels fighting against occupation of Afghanistan for the purposes of curtailing Soviet expansionism as well. The Soviets were now opening a presence in the Gulf facilitated by Iraq, a country with whom relations had so soured and which maintained a huge & capable military.

The Saudis and those little countries might have been worried but the Americans were even more concerned. The Carter Doctrine was still in effect despite Reagan’s presence in the White House. The Soviets were looking likely to make their presence in the Gulf now permanent, the current US president’s advisers told him. This wasn’t something that America was willing to accept. Such a thing threatened the international order which the United States wanted to maintain. The question was though how to address this.

5 – The Bear gets its fur wet

Back at the beginning of 1980, before he left office a year later, then-President Carter had spoken before Congress and the watching American people about how the United States would react should a ‘foreign power’ attempt to seize control of the Persian Gulf. Everything up to the use of force was promised in what was afterwards deemed the Carter Doctrine. This speech had occurred following the Iranian Revolution, the storming of the US Embassy there to take hostages and then the Soviet Union moving into Afghanistan: it was before the Iran-Iraq War started. There had beforehand been the announcement of a multi-service US military commitment to out-of-area operations worldwide and this, the Rapid Deployment Force, which became the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) later on, was soon tied to possible Gulf operations under the Carter Doctrine. That foreign power was the Soviet Union despite it not being directly named. Saddam had then launched his war against Iran with the border fighting expanding to ballistic missile attacks by each other against urban areas – the War of the Cities – as well as into the Gulf where oil tankers & facilities were targeted by each side. Reagan had beaten Carter at the polls by this time and taken office, with the hostages from Tehran being released at that point, yet the Carter Doctrine and the option of using the RDJTF remained in-place. The Soviets were in Afghanistan and had also established a small presence – but a presence nonetheless – over in Iran as well as supplying Iraq with arms. The transport of oil out of the Gulf via tankers was what the West feared that the Soviets wanted to control should they move closer yet the fighting already taking place caused a lot of worry. That oil was the lifeblood of the West’s economy. It had to keep flowing in the face of Soviet desires as well as Iran and Iraq trading shots with one another.

The United States Navy, like the Royal Navy too, established a naval presence in the Gulf. They had access to port facilities (not real bases though) among the Gulf Arab Monarchies. For the British, this was the Armilla patrol with the rotation of a warship along with a supporting vessel. The Americans did things on a larger scale. When Reagan would later expand the RDJTF into Central Command – CENTCOM: a multi-service geographical combat command on par with SACEUR – there was the regular commitment of a carrier battle group to the Arabian Sea, which lay just outside of the Persian Gulf, in addition to several warships at a time going into the Gulf itself all with that nearby air power on-call. Attacks on tankers, those of the belligerent nations in the Iran-Iraq War but also those of neutral countries by Iran which they considered to be aiding Iraq’s war efforts, gained more and more American attention. There were calls in Washington for CENTCOM to prepare missions to escort tankers if this continued. The focus of the Americans remained on Iran with that nation being considered hostile in this process, more so than the Soviets to be honest.

Saddam’s death and the subsequent ending of the war which he had started at first led to talk of scaling back this Western military presence. Withdrawal of the Armilla Patrol and the redeployment of the always overstretched Royal Navy was something that there were calls to see done back in London. Even in Washington, there was consideration given to possibly easing up on the commitment: the attacks on oil tankers had ceased and the Soviets remained landlocked in Afghanistan. American hostility towards revolutionary Iran and then the worry from the Saudis and others that Rashid might do as Saddam had done and start another war kept the United States, even the British, committed to the Middle East though. The efforts of cost-cutters and the beliefs of geo-political strategists on Western politicians could have changed minds given time yet then the Soviets started making their presence felt in the Gulf when staging out of Iraq. This hadn’t been foreseen in Western capitals. It was happening though.

Ships from the Soviet Navy’s Indian Ocean Squadron had port access to facilities in Ethiopia and Yemen, some distance from the Gulf, but now Iraq allowed them to use Umm Qasr too. Their well-armed cruisers and destroyers made their presence felt in sailing through the Gulf, the Arabian Sea and out into the ocean too. Iraq’s own navy was receiving ships built in Italy and long impounded there as well as receiving some Soviet-built ships. However, it was these Soviet Navy ships which caused all of the uproar. The Armilla Patrol was outgunned significantly and despite having serious firepower among whichever carrier group was on-station, the Americans still couldn’t ignore those Soviet vessels. Moscow responded to diplomatic enquiries with the remarks that it had established a military presence in the Gulf to keep the peace. It didn’t look like that to everyone else.

There too was that presence of their aircraft. They were flying naval-rolled combat aircraft out of Iraq which flew out over the Gulf. Their fighters and tactical strike aircraft didn’t have much range but their bombers & patrol aircraft did. The strategic balance here was upset by this presence. In Western capitals they didn’t like how the Bear was getting its fur wet here and they were receiving visitors from their regional allies stating that they felt intimidated by the Soviet presence in Iraq. The reaction from the Saudis and the Gulf Arab Monarchies was done in private though. In public, they had an image to maintain. When at the same time as the Soviets were showing this overt support for Iraq, Rashid had his army, one he proclaimed as ‘victorious’ in the fight with Iran, on exercise throughout southern parts of his country. From out of Saudi Arabia, there came the worry that was expressed to the US secretary of state when he visited the region in September of 1986 that a nightmare situation might occur where the Soviets would forge an alliance between themselves, Iran and Iran together against the Gulf countries. It was an overblown fear, not one likely at all, though was something latched onto back home in Washington by certain figures pushing an agenda. Such an idea wasn’t fully dismissed though.

The following month, as CENTCOM retained its naval presence due to Soviet naval & air activities, the Americans watched as one of those Soviet ships was involved in an incident in the Straits of Hormuz at the head of the Persian Gulf. Here between Iran and Oman, a Qatari vessel was stopped on the high seas and a hostile boarding operation took place. The Soviets would afterwards state that they were responding to a distress call – this was a lie – and stumbled upon the shipment to Afghanistan, via Qatar and then Pakistan, of arms. Qatar denied the ship had been carrying weapons – they lied too – and claimed international piracy. The vessel was then afterwards forced to dock at Bandar Abbas in Iran where from Tehran the act of Qatar shipping arms to Afghanistan was denounced.

That claim from Riyadh before about an Iran-Iraq-Soviet axis now didn’t look so silly, did it?

6 – A deal

It could be said that superpower tensions eased somewhat in the coming months over the matter of Soviet entry into the Middle East and the American reaction to this. Neither side wanted a conflict. There were other factors at play, ones considered to be far more important. Premier Gorbachev and President Reagan each had their eyes on the bigger picture. Only days after that act of at-sea piracy or fulfilling international obligations with regard to maritime law – it depended upon how you wanted to see it – the two leaders had met at the Reykjavik Summit. Their talks in Iceland concerned strategic arms. Reductions in such weapons really mattered.

Upon returning home from Reykjavik, Gorbachev met with the Politburo to discuss what had been agreed with Reagan. Not long in his role, the general secretary was still conciliating his position at the very top in Moscow. There wasn’t wide, real agreement on the course of action being followed yet no open hostility either. The foreign minister mentioned to the Politburo what the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf region were crying to the Americans about: an axis between Baghdad, Tehran and Moscow with the ultimate goal of conquering them. A few smirks were raised among these men present at the Kremlin while one of the ministers even let out a chuckle. The idea was ridiculous! That wasn’t the case at all. Neither Iran with its religious extremism, of a similar sort which the Soviet Union was fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan, nor the morally bankrupt Iraq could ever be seriously considered their allies. Some cooperation on select matters was done yet that was all. Why would the Soviet Union wish for a war against those sheikhdoms to the south too? That would only bring in the Americans and turn the Cold War into a Hot War.

The matter of the ship stopped and seized was discussed too. This had occurred after approval for the operation had come at the highest level before Gorbachev left to meet with Reagan. It was done for political purposes rather than any real benefit. Unsaid among the Politburo, and something which would be denied by many if raised, was the simple fact that the KGB supplied more arms to the Afghan rebels than could be found upon that Qatari ship. The war being fought in Afghanistan involved Soviet soldiers being killed by Soviet weapons funnelled to the rebels via the KGB. Complicated powerplays were involved in this where the party, the military and the Chekists all had their own end-goals. As said, that link was something not spoken aloud of and the focus was on the American-backed scheme for the Arabs (even the Israelis had been dragged into that!) to send weapons to Afghanistan. Breaking this up and exposing it in public for Western public consumption was the ultimate intention but there was a certain way in which that would be done. Access to the Gulf for the Soviets from Iraq had brought about the ability to allow for this to continue. The Politburo was pleased with how things had turned out though there was an understanding that this was a long-term matter. There was more to be done there.

Bringing about a cooling of war worries was being done in the Middle East by those who lived there too, not just those from afar who had abstract goals. The dispute over Iraqi debts to its neighbours wasn’t one which anyone wanted. It was recognised by many as the root cause of the attempts at intervention by outsiders. Couldn’t they, as Arab brothers, sort this all out between themselves?

Kuwait made the first move. It was they who were right next to Iraq and felt the most concern for what would happen if Rashid in Iraq decided to send his army on a drive southwards. Long Iraqi territorial designs on Kuwait existed and one of the underlying reasons for Kuwait joining the others in lending Iraq all that money in the first place was to placate them. The Saudis and the other Gulf Arab Monarchies feared Iranian extremism foremost, and Kuwait had suffered that too with Iranian-backed terror attacks, but it was Iraqi invasion & annexation which Kuwait dreaded more than anything else.

Rashid welcomed Kuwait’s leader, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, to Baghdad personally when the official state visit was made. The two men had never met before but soon seemed to establish a good relationship. This came as a surprise to many. It was a matter of chemistry though. Jaber presented an offer to Rashid to solve the debt issue that Iraq had with its neighbours. There could too be cooperation on the access to the international oil markets as well. The concession here, one which freed Iraq from the impossible situation it was in, was something that stunned Rashid. He seized upon it though. Naturally, there would have to be a look at the figures and the details needed to be worked out, but what Jaber was putting on the table was what Iraq wanted.

The two men shook hands on this deal. The future looked rosy.

7 – Deterrence

The deal didn’t hold up.

The handshake between Rashid and Jaber had taken place at the beginning of November 1986 and a long series of negotiations had begun with that. Those fell apart though once the New Year came around. The Iraqi number-crunchers reported back to Rashid what the Kuwaiti offer at settling the financial dispute really meant in the long term. On the face of things, it appeared to be fair yet when examined such as they had done, the Kuwaitis were being extraordinarily greedy. Jaber and his partners to the south were going to receive a significant sum from Iraq and the minute details of the deal would see Iraq tied economically to them for the foreseeable future. Rashid had the talks cut off following a confirmation of this from outside sources. There were some West German economists, in whom he had faith because they were ‘Frankfurt bankers’ as far as he was concerned, who looked over the whole matter and agreed with what his own people were telling him. The Kuwaiti negotiation team was sent home from Baghdad was undue haste and little diplomatic niceties.

In contact direct with Kuwait’s ruling sheikh, Rashid told him that Iraq had been insulted by Kuwaiti double-dealing. He would have nothing more to do with him and would too seek a suitable response for callous betrayal which he regarded as having taken place of his trust.

Such a smashing of promising new relations came at a time where Iraq was hit once more by unrest. The domestic economical situation hadn’t been fixed. Many foreign workers had gone home after last year’s troubles and their jobs taken by demobilised Iraqi soldiers yet that wasn’t that widely done. There was much unemployment in the country with angry young men out of work and angry. To whip them up, there once more came interference from opposition groups. Rashid had ruled out making any promises of elections but he had said that political reforms would come. They hadn’t taken place. Regardless, such actions were never going to placate the opposition. They found Rashid soft too, unwilling to do what Saddam had done. That wasn’t true because the current president had flooded Iraqi streets with soldiers last year when the deceased president had never gone that far but the truth here didn’t matter that much anymore.

Perception was key.

Like the Kuwaitis, Rashid’s internal opponents underestimated him. He sent in his soldiers again against a big demonstration in the capital. The men obeyed orders and put down a peaceful series of marches with violence. Rashid would afterwards feel ‘forced’ to start using his military intelligence services against opposition figures where they would act as a secret police. Saddam’s pet killers had been long let go and Rashid had done without such a force but no longer. He also used what happened to his advantage. Knowing that the domestic situation remained volatile with the public mood whipped up, he sought to direct that anger as much as he could elsewhere. That direction was towards Kuwait. Government-organised – and policed – marches took place against the Kuwaitis in late January.

Among their allies, and to the international community too, Kuwait played the innocent victim card. They had been reasonable with Iraq and what had they received in exchange? Insults and threats followed by Rashid having the Iraqi people on the streets marching against Kuwait with claims that their country was part of Iraq, stolen from them. There were plenty who understood what the Kuwaitis had been up to and been caught doing. Yet… Iraq was who got the bad press behind this while Jaber skated free. The issue with the renewed Iraqi claims that Kuwait was rightfully a part of Iraq was the defining factor behind this. Jaber received messages of support from regional allies and found to that among the international community, especially nations to which Kuwait exported oil, there remained the long-standing hostility to Iraq.

Back in 1981, Kuwait had been one of several countries which had formed the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the other founding members. There was an economic and diplomatic focus with the GCC though the fundamental independence of each nation wasn’t affected by this partnership. As the Iran-Iraq War had continued, the GCC agreed to establish what was called the ‘Peninsula Shield Force’. This would be a joint, deployable military force to be used within the Gulf. It was a lofty goal to get this up and running: making it effective was even more of a challenge. The GCC wasn’t NATO nor the Warsaw Pact and thus was unable to have the political will neither the military capabilities to build a credible armed component. They tried though.

Oman refused to add an attachment to the Peninsula Shield Force when it was stood-up in the field come February ’87 on Saudi soil. Kuwait kept its own troops at home but the other four nations each made a commitment to what was in effect a brigade of combat troops. Starting out at Dhahran, the brigade then moved northwards to near the Kuwaiti-Saudi border, not inside Kuwait itself. This was a deterrent force and not something designed to try an intimidate the Iraqis. Such was the reason for no forward deployment given. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia both had other military forces active on their own soil too.

Nothing any of the GCC countries had organised as a ground force, individually or collectively, compared in any way to the Iraqi Army. Should it come to a fight, there would only be one winner. No one wanted that fight though.

8 – Intimidation

Iraqi diplomats found themselves under instruction from Rashid to form if not an anti-GCC alliance throughout the Middle East than at least a pro-Iraqi broad coalition. This was quite the task set for them, especially as so many of them were as inexperienced as they were. The general who ruled in Baghdad had put military officers in these diplomatic posts like he had sent others elsewhere in his government. Talks aiming to secure support from Jordan failed spectacularly. Jordan and Iraq had always had good relations no matter who was in charge in Baghdad but when it came to the matter of taking sides against Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Arab Monarchies, those in Amman would have none of that. The aid of Jordanian diplomats in resolving the matter was offered by King Hussein yet there could be no support for Iraq’s claim that Kuwait had no right to exist and thus belonged to Iraq. Down in Sana’a, the president of North Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, refused Rashid’s advances too. He’d been close to Saddam and had initially been welcoming to Rashid yet couldn’t support him on this matter… not when the Saudis had already approached him with generous financial aid promised to his country. Syria stood somewhat in contrast to Jordan and North Yemen though. When his diplomats looked unlikely to get anywhere in Damascus with President Assad’s people, Rashid went to Syria himself. The Ba’athist split between Baghdad and Damascus was something that Rashid never had a stake in. The two countries had more in common that they had in opposition. Assad agreed with Rashid that he had a valid cause to be aggrieved with Kuwait though he did stop short of making public statements calling for the disestablishment of Kuwait. Through Syria, Iraq would soon be exporting oil, which Rashid considered an important improvement in relations, though it would have been better to get full, open support on the matter of Kuwait rather than the half-measure of support that he did receive.

With diplomatic avenues not living up to hopes, Rashid attempted to intimidate Kuwait using military force. Invading Kuwait and annexing it at this point remained only a threat. It was done to keep a lid on domestic tensions – focusing anger on outsiders – as well as to turn the screws on his neighbours to bring them back to the negotiating table where they would no longer try to cheat Iraq. That intimidation came at sea.

The Iraqi Navy put to sea. There were several warships, all well-armed, which made their presence felt at the northern end of the Persian Gulf. Staying clear of Iranian waters, they instead moved from what were internationally agreed Iraqi waters into Kuwaiti ones. Aircraft joined them and made invasions in Kuwaiti airspace too. Challenged over the airwaves, there came a mixture of threats of force as well as denials that neither the waters nor airspace were Kuwaiti.

This all historically belonged to Iraq!

During late February 1987, several vessels inbound for Kuwait were challenged when at sea by the Iraqi Navy. These instances took place in international waters and Kuwaiti waters too. Claims were made that they were in Iraqi waters without permission. No vessels were directly seized though there were boardings and ‘inspections’ as well as warning shots fired to get vessels to stop. This activity caused all sorts of complications. Kuwait could do nothing to stop it nor the disruption that it caused. Moreover, as Rashid had intended, Kuwait found that there were negative financial consequences. If it continued onwards, Kuwait’s economy would take an serious hit with the delays caused to the export of oil as well as the certainty that shipping would avoid Kuwait in the face of this.

Iraqi action here wasn’t something that was ignored. The GCC countries had tiny naval forces and nothing which could influence what was happening off Kuwait unless they wanted to enter a shooting war. Diplomats from these nations were busy on the international stage yet before their impact could be felt, the West had already taken notice. Iraqi activity had a rapid ripple effect on the global markets. It wasn’t so much as what the Iraqis were doing, but what they might do. Reagan caught political flak at home while in Britain, Lloyds of London, which insured so much of the shipping in the Gulf, exerted its own considerable effort on the Treasury and thus Downing Street.

Naval vessels of both Britain and the United States turned up. The Royal Navy sent the frigate HMS Alacrity to the area with the mission of stopping piracy. The rules-of-engagement (ROE) issued to the captain were complicated though that wasn’t that unusual for RN vessels on the Armilla Patrol. Into the same waters, with less restrictive ROE, came a trio of American warships: two destroyers and a frigate. Whereas the British were long used to operating without on-hand immediate air cover (used to it; not happy not to have it), the United States Navy didn’t like it. There was a carrier in the Arabian Sea yet the flying time for its aircraft to reach the northern Gulf was significant. The mission for them and the RN wasn’t to fight here though so air cover shouldn’t matter. They were supposed to monitor the situation with Iraqi forces active here and intervene to stop at-sea piracy.

There were soon aircraft in the sky above these Western warships. The Iraqis put some of their combat jets up before, on the last day of February, Soviet aircraft flying out of Iraq were spotted in the skies too. Those captains of the American & British vessels were not going to be comfortable under the intimidation that these would bring upon them.
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