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Remembering Desert Storm and the Gulf War(s) Odyssey of Iraq’s Air Force, Part 1

Part I of a two-part series, Michael Brill recounts the bizarre story of Iraq's transfer of much of its airforce to Iran during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Saddam Hussein tried to save the bulk of his airforce from the coalition invasion by transferring aircraft to Iraq's neighbor, who only two years before had been a mortal enemy.

January 17, 2021, marks the thirtieth anniversary of Operation Desert Storm.

On that date three decades ago, the initiation of the aerial and naval bombardment of Iraq signaled the shift away from Operation Desert Shield, the more than five months of US-led coalition military deployments in Saudi Arabia and the wider Persian Gulf region. United Nations Security Council Resolution 678 gave Iraq until January 15, 1991, to withdraw from Kuwait, after which the international community was empowered to use “all necessary means” to achieve this result. After five weeks of bombardment, US-led ground forces quickly expelled the Iraqi military from occupied Kuwait, which Saddam Hussein had ordered the invasion and annexation of as Iraq’s “nineteenth province” on August 2, 1990.

With the passing of more than a quarter century, the growing availability of declassified US government documents is now enabling new research on the conflict. Likewise, on the Iraqi side, digitized collections of records from Saddam’s regime – including those captured by the US military during the liberation of Kuwait in 1991[i], along with those seized during the 2003 War[ii] – offer a fuller picture of the diplomatic, military, and political aspects of the 1990-1991 Gulf War.[iii]

Yet the Gulf War has nevertheless been a difficult subject to assess in wider historical terms,[iv] even as a number of earlier works detailed the command level,[v] ground and air war,[vi] and specific roles of armed forces branches and units,[vii] and yielded valuable insights on the diplomatic and political dimensions of the conflict from the US and international perspectives,[viii] This difficulty has stemmed in no small part from the war’s long and evolving aftermath, the continued deployment of US military forces in the region, and intervention in Iraq up to the present day.[ix]

This two-part article draws on contemporary news coverage, the memoirs of a couple of key participants, and digitized copies of Iraqi records captured in 2003 to reexamine one of the strangest episodes from the early weeks of Operation Desert Storm: Saddam’s decision to evacuate much of Iraq’s surviving military aircraft for safekeeping in Iran, the country with which Iraq had waged the twentieth century’s longest inter-state war between 1980 and 1988.[x]

While the decision saved the aircraft from likely destruction at the time, unsurprisingly, Iran did not return the aircraft to Iraq following the conclusion of the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The issue ultimately became a sticking point in Iran-Iraq bilateral relations that outlived Saddam’s regime. In the first weeks of the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) following the fall of Mosul during the summer of 2014, Iran returned many of the aircraft to Iraq in order to assist the beleaguered Iraqi Security Forces, which were also effectively operating without an air force at that time.

The Gulf War(s) odyssey of a hundred or so Iraqi military aircraft is thus a small window into the series of armed conflicts that have featured prominently in Iraq’s history over the past four decades. It also demonstrates the importance of consulting the Iraqi documents and available Iranian sources.

As puzzling as the event was to outside observers in 1991, it led to speculation that the evacuation operation was evidence of a secret alliance between Iraq and Iran or had been a mass defection by Iraqi Air Force pilots. The event was puzzling even to high-ranking members of Saddam’s regime, including then-General Military Intelligence Director Wafiq al-Sammara’i, who later defected. In his memoirs, Sammara’i described Saddam’s ordering the warplanes to Iran as “the strangest decision out of all of his strange decisions.”[xi] Although the Iraqi records definitively prove the operation was ordered by Saddam, the connection of the story to Iran-Iraq relations since 2003, along with more recent developments since 2014, illustrate the numerous ways in which the legacies of the 1990-1991 Gulf War have shaped subsequent events and the lives of their participants. As will be seen, in the case of this specific issue, the consequences for individuals involved may have been more serious that was realized previously. The following first part of the article will examine the issue up until the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. The subsequent second part will follow the story through some of the darkest days of the 2003-2011 Iraq War, eventually reaching the period of the rise of ISIS and the campaign to defeat it.

From Adversary to Ally?

At the start of the 1990-1991 Gulf War, Iraq possessed the world’s sixth largest air force, including at least 700 warplanes. When the coalition air campaign began on January 17, 1991, the strikes took a heavy toll on the Iraqi Air Force, both in the air and even more critically, on the ground. By the last week of January, the US-led coalition had quickly achieved air superiority, flying nearly 23,000 sorties over Kuwait and Iraq. They shot down 22 Iraqi planes in aerial combat and in a development surprising to Iraqis and Americans alike, 2,000-pound bombs dropped by coalition planes were more effective than had been expected against Iraqi armored and underground aircraft hangers. On January 26, 1991, the first reports on the flight of Iraqi planes to Iran appeared in the press. Reporting noted that a dozen Iraqi warplanes and a dozen transport planes had recently landed in Iran.

Iranian officials were quick to announce the planes were “confiscated” until the end of hostilities. Underscoring the chaotic arrival of the first group of Iraqi planes, Iranian aircraft reportedly intercepted them at the border. Two of the planes were damaged and one exploded upon landing in Iran. Many analysts initially assumed defection to have been the motive, but a report noted, “Before the Pentagon announcement, US officials in Washington said they had known for some time that Iraqi civilian aircraft had been flown to Iran for ‘safekeeping.’”

On the Iranian side, in his memoirs, President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani confirms that on January 12, 1991, the Supreme National Security Council met, during which Iran’s leadership “decided to accept the passenger planes and not be strict about food and medicine going to Iraq.” On January 18th, Rafsanjani was told by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati that he was informed by Japan’s ambassador that “The Americans are saying that they have received news of a number of military and non-military planes from Iraq are being maintained in Iran,” to which Rafsanjani responded, “they are lying.” And on January 26th, Rafsanjani noted, “News arrived that a number of Iraqi warplanes arrived in Iranian air space without permission and requested emergency landing,” along with that one damaged plane caught fire while landing.[xii]

On January 28, 1991, New York Times coverage quoted General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of United States Central Command, as explaining the effectiveness of the coalition’s air campaign starting to force Saddam’s air force into Iran. Schwarzkopf told the press that the number of Iraqi aircraft in Iran had risen to 39 and stated, “They are now taking their very best fighters over there.” The general acknowledged he did not know if Saddam ordered the flight of the aircraft but entertained the possibility it could have been a deliberate move aimed at preserving them for future action against coalition forces. When asked if the planes could be counted on to stay in Iran until the end of the war, Schwarzkopf answered, “At this time we should take Iran at its word,” but added coalition forces were prepared to destroy them in the event they reentered the theater of operations.

By January 29, 1991, the number of top Iraqi warplanes in Iran had risen to 60. Pentagon officials acknowledged that the overall number of planes had risen to at least 80, and possibly as many as 100 had sought sanctuary in Iran. As the number rose, the tone of US officials followed by news coverage shifted, observing, “The Iraqi pilots had earlier been described as defectors, but it seems increasingly likely that their journeys into Iran are part of some larger plan.” Pentagon officials noted the coordinated flight patterns of the Iraqi aircraft fleeing to Iran, which raised suspicions Saddam was trying to preserve them for a later stage in the conflict, particularly for the anticipated coalition ground assault aimed at expelling occupying Iraqi forces from Kuwait. In response to growing media coverage and US concern with the waves of Iraqi warplanes arriving in Iran, and in consultation with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Rafsanjani asked Foreign Minister Velayati to emphasize Iran’s neutrality in the conflict.[xiii]

The rapid uptick in Iraqi warplanes fleeing to Iran, combined with the fact that among them were some of the Iraqi Air Force’s best planes, including French Mirage F-1s and Soviet Sukhoi Su-24s, Su-25s, and MiG-29 interceptors, shocked US military officials. Additional January 29, 1991, reporting on the issue explained that “a frantic effort is underway in official circles to unravel the mystery.” One official admitted, “I’m dumbstruck by the whole thing, and so is everyone else I’ve talked to… I can’t imagine the Iranians giving those planes back.” Another, clearly more alarmed official stated: “This could be the greatest deception job in history, if the Iranians are in bed with the Iraqis on this. That would be worse than the Molotov-Von Ribbentrop pact,” raising the potential stakes to that of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin’s 1939 partition of Eastern Europe prior to World War II.

Despite dwindling official support for it, some analysts clung to the defection hypothesis. One opined, “It ties into the theory that I’ve had for some time—that the Iraqi military is intrinsically nationalistic, not party-oriented. The more you get to the elite in the Iraqi military, the more nationalist you are, and you don’t become a party hack.” The analyst elaborated further, “They may have said, ‘I’m taking my aircraft to safe haven. After this regime dies, I’d like to have my air assets intact.’”

In addition to the aforementioned sober-minded, alarmist, and dubious lines of thinking, key evidence was beginning to emerge. A high-level Iraqi delegation, led by Saddam’s deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, had visited Tehran a week prior to the initiation of the coalition’s air campaign. The delegation included Iraq’s deputy prime minister, minister of state for foreign affairs, minister of transport and communications, deputy oil minister, and several parliamentarians. This visit is discussed in both Sammara’i and Rafsanjani’s respective memoirs. The latter contains a picture of the meeting.[xiv]

After the delegation returned to Iraq on January 10, 1991, four days later, Iraqi commercial aircraft began landing in Tehran and Mashad, eventually reaching between 12 and 18 planes, according to travelers. Meanwhile, by January 30, 1991, rising coalition concerns about the number of Iraqi military aircraft in Iran, now at least 90, prompted fresh assurances from the Iranian government that it would not permit their return to Iraq. Iran’s United Nations Ambassador Kamal Kharrazi announced, “These airplanes are seized and they will be seized until the war is over.” Even when asked if the potential entry of Israel into the conflict would change Iran’s stance, Kharrazi answered, “Liberation of Palestine does not justify occupation of Kuwait.” According to one US official, Iran had sent back-channel messages to the United States, including some where the Soviet Union was the intermediary, promising not to return the planes during the conflict and perhaps ever. The unnamed official stated emphatically with respect to the planes that Saddam “is not going to get them back.”

The expulsion of Iraq’s ground forces from Kuwait in February 1991 was followed by uprisings that swept through southern and northern Iraq throughout March. The former was brutally crushed by Saddam’s regime, whereas the latter, with the help of eventual coalition intervention, achieved autonomy in many of the predominantly Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. The next mention of Iraq’s planes in Iran appeared on April 24, 1991, when the Associated Press reported, “Iranian crews have begun painting their air force insignia on some of the Iraqi warplanes.” The Iraqis had previously announced 115 of their warplanes and a total of 148 military and civilian aircraft, as being in Iran, although US officials said the number was 137. The final tally of warplanes included 24 Mirage F-1s, 24 Sukhoi Su-24s, 40 Su-22s, four Su-20s, seven Su-25s, 12 Mig-23s, and four MiG-29s. Ominously for the Iraqis, Iranian Foreign Minister Velayati said of the aircraft that only 22 civilian ones, including some that had been plundered by Iraq from Kuwait, “would be returned when the crisis is over.” Iranian officials acknowledged that 15 warplanes had been incorporated into the Iranian Air Force, stationed near Tabriz. Other sources stated the number of incorporated planes appeared to be higher and growing, although the Iranians likely prioritized the top-line MiG-29s, Su-24s, and Su-25s.

On July 31, 1992, the New York Times reported that Iran was officially expropriating 132 of the Iraqi planes held in the country. The article cited Saudi media as stating that the seizure was a first step for Iran in claiming hundreds of billions of dollars in damages and reparations from Iraq over the Iran-Iraq War. The Iraqi aircraft were valued at $1.2 billion. Of the aircraft not being expropriated, one of the Kuwaiti airliners had returned home on July 30th. However, as the article noted, “others are still held up, since Iran is demanding $90 million from Kuwait for parking and maintenance fees since it received the planes from Iraq last year.” The Iranians had clearly not forgotten the fact that Kuwait was a leading financier of Saddam’s war against their country during the previous decade. Kuwait’s $14 billion in loans to Baghdad drew Tehran’s ire primarily in the form of state-sponsored terrorism and conventional attacks against its oil tankers during the war. Iraq’s subsequent inability to pay the debt and Kuwait’s unwillingness to forgive it was also one of the primary grievances cited by Saddam when deciding to invade and annex the country just under two years after the war with Iran ended. In any event, the Iraqi civilian aircraft flown to Iran had reportedly already been placed under the control of Iran Air. The article also referred to unnamed officials from Persian Gulf countries confirming their understanding that at least 100 of the Iraqi warplanes were being incorporated into the Iranian Air Force.

The issue of the aircraft then received little media attention until a 1998 Wall Street Journal article, which mentioned it in the context of recent high-level meetings between Iraqi and Iranian officials about exchanging prisoners still held since the end of open hostilities in 1988, along with opening their shared border. Saddam claimed that Iraq had been double-crossed by Iran in 1991 and when Iraqi officials pressed their Iranian counterparts to return the planes, the latter cleverly replied that their hands were tied by the United Nations sanctions placed on Iraq. As then-Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif explained, “We’re constrained by the requirements of the sanctions.” However, Zarif did not fail to also point out that the estimated value of the planes was a small fraction of the $1 trillion in damages Iran suffered as a result of its war with Iraq. With the passage of time, Iranian officials had become less transparent with information about the aircraft, or their location. Zarif even said that the hundred-plus figure of Iraqi warplanes in Iran was an exaggeration, but added, “We’re not in the counting business.” The article cited official Iranian denials that they had made any use of the warplanes, along with the acknowledgement by Iran Air that only one civilian jetliner had been added to its fleet. Michael Eisenstadt, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who the article described as having “tried to make a study of the matter,” said of the Iraqi aircraft in Iranian possession, “They may not even be able to start the engines up, or operate the hydraulics… They’re probably nonfunctional at this point.” As the United States’ confrontation with Saddam’s regime continued throughout the 1990s, the Iranians were undoubtedly pleased as memory of one of the Gulf War’s stranger episodes faded.

What Do the Iraqi Records Reveal?

As a result of the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, the US military seized upwards of 100 million pages of documents and nearly 2,000 hours of audio recordings from Saddam’s regime. Although only a small fraction of these records were ultimately indexed, translated, and made available to researchers for a limited period of time, they nevertheless shed some light on the subject of Iraq’s aircraft flown to Iran, confirming certain details while revealing new insights.

The Iraqi records confirmed the suspicions of US military officials that Saddam had ordered the planes to Iran in the hope of preserving them for use in a later stage of the conflict with coalition forces. In a memorandum to Iraqi Air Force commanders, Saddam wrote, “For safekeeping, the planes were sent to Iran until the appropriate time comes to use them against the enemy.”[xv]

Ministry of Defense correspondences also confirm that the evacuation of aircraft to Iran proceeded in phases, with each step approved by Saddam. One document from January 26, 1991, signed by Saddam, mentions 18 Mirage F-1s, nine Su-24s, and a large military transport plane flown to Iran. The document also confirms the effectiveness of coalition bombing, explaining the motivation for the emergency plan involving the aircraft as being “to secure their safety against the hostile air raids that aimed at destroying the aircraft inside the shelters.” The file requested Saddam “please approve the evacuation of another group of aircraft to Iran,” while an official wrote in a later note, “I have no objections to notifying him of fifty aircraft.”[xvi]

The available records do not reveal if Saddam, someone in his inner circle, or the Iraqi military first suggested flying the planes to Iran, although they convey the shared sense of panic in the upper echelon of Saddam’s regime upon the realization that Iraq’s Air Force was quickly being destroyed on the ground. Their efforts also foreshadowed later events. Part of the plan called for “Dispersing the aircraft in distant places, outside the fences of bases and in camouflaged and wooded areas by using deception nets.” In 2003, the Iraqi Air Force went even further, burying many of its surviving aircraft in the sand outside military bases.

The Iraqi records touch on some of the most peculiar aspects of the story as well. One file, recovered from the General Military Intelligence Directorate, contained an air force memorandum. Dated February 20, 1991, it read, “It was decided to take the necessary action to prepare the elements who will be departing for Iran for the purpose of extending the life of our aircraft in Iran.” It also mentioned four Su-25 pilots would accompany them, “together with passports and photos for the purpose of completing their paperwork to proceed to Iran.”[xvii] This document appears to confirm one of the more obscure aspects of contemporary news coverage. One article quoted Sepehr Zabih, an Iranian-American professor at Saint Mary’s College of California “with contacts in Iran” as stating, “aviation mechanics were flying into Iran, along with the Iraqi fighter pilots.” It seems Zabih had sources inside the Iraqi or Iranian air forces, although this development ultimately did not come to pass. Zabih also stated at the time he “wouldn’t be surprised if sooner, rather than later, Iran gets involved” in the Gulf War.

Another Iraqi record speaks to the subsequent Iraqi frustrations with Iran. A General Military Intelligence Directorate document dated August 15, 1991, reports information on the subject claimed to have been derived with the help of a sources in Indian intelligence. The document revealed, “Iran painted most of the Iraqi fighter aircraft and added them to their air force,” while noting that Iran intended to sell some of the more advanced planes to Pakistan. Reportedly, the Soviet Union requested that Iran return the aircraft to Iraq, threatening to withhold the sale of radars to Iran. The file also mentions ongoing Iraqi intelligence efforts to track down the location and report on the status of its various aircraft in Iran.[xviii] Although it is unclear if Iran ever sold any of the Iraqi aircraft to Pakistan, the dissolution of the Soviet Union a little over four months later likely ended any serious efforts towards pressuring Iran to return the aircraft to Iraq.

A Ministry of Defense file, which includes a March 31, 1992, report written by the Iraqi military attaché to an unspecified country, illustrates Iraq’s continued interest in its warplanes, along with ways in which the issue came to involve a number of Iran’s allies and friendly neighboring states.[xix] The report noted that “experts and technicians from Russia and North Korea participated in the maintenance operations for 91 Iraqi aircraft [seized during the Gulf War] made by the Soviets.” 85 of the 91 Soviet-made aircraft were reported to be operational and would be incorporated into the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Aviation Division. With respect to the French-made Mirage F-1s, Iran and Pakistan were said to be cooperating in their upkeep, which was possible in that earlier Mirage models were in the inventory of the Pakistani Air Force. Additionally, in autumn 1991, the Syrians “sent a large air force delegation,” including technicians and pilots, to both help the Russian and North Korean technicians and train Iranian pilots to fly the aircraft. On a wider diplomatic level, the successor Russian Federation appeared to have ceased pressuring Iran to return the aircraft to Iraq. To the contrary, Russia was reportedly in the process of selling 40-50 MiG-29s to Iran and 80 Iranian pilots had graduated from the former Soviet Air Force academy.

The Iraqi records do not reveal evidence of a secret deal with Iran to shelter Iraq’s warplanes, nor subsequent Iranian treachery as alleged by Saddam. Although the available material does not pertain to the contents of the meetings between the Iraqi delegation and Iranian officials just prior to the initiation of the coalition air campaign in January 1991, it seems like the Iranians were genuinely surprised by the arrival of the first Iraqi warplanes. The respective memoirs of Iraqi General Military Intelligence Director Sammara’i and Iranian President Rafsanjani confirm that the actual deal pertained only to Iraqi civilian and transport aircraft.[xx] Rafsanjani’s memoirs further suggest that an important part of the deal for the Iranians in exchange for sheltering these aircraft was the concession that Saddam’s regime would take action against or handover to Iran members of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) opposition group, which Iraq supported and harbored on its territory.[xxi] However, the Iraqi records show that Saddam’s regime continued to sponsor the MEK and utilize it for intelligence gathering operations inside Iran after the 1990-1991 Gulf War.[xxii]

In his memoirs, Sammara’i does not mention the MEK stipulation, but skeptically recounts an April 1991 meeting during which Saddam claimed to have sent an official to Iran (“whose name he did not recall”) during the second week of the war who returned with Iran’s consent to dispatching Iraq’s warplanes to air bases in western Iran. Moreover, Saddam claimed he came up with the idea from the Air Force and he was “convinced of their inability to protect the aircraft” in Iraq. Sammara’i recalled that a number of military officials, including the commander of the Air Force, were noticeably absent from the meeting in question when Saddam made these claims. He states that Saddam sent the warplanes to Iran despite being “provided a clear warning sign of the Iranian position” in light of Iran’s continued refusal to return many Iraqi prisoners still held since the end of the Iran-Iraq War. Sammara’i ultimately ascribes the matter to the “arrogance, high-handedness, and ignorance of Saddam.”[xxiii]

In any event, as Saddam and his inner circle panicked over the devastation of the coalition air campaign and likely realizing the longer escape route to friendly Jordan came with a much higher chance of interception, they reluctantly settled on their recent Iranian adversary. Saddam in turn wagered that he could expand the terms of the deal moving civilian and transport aircraft to Iran for safekeeping to include Iraq’s best surviving warplanes. However, the surprised Iranians may have even engaged the first group of Iraqi warplanes that suddenly appeared in Iran’s airspace, which would explain the contemporary news reports and confirmation in President Rafsanjani’s memoirs of unexpected damaged aircraft landing in Iran, including one that exploded once on the ground. Rather than look a gift horse in the mouth, Iran’s stunned leadership clearly decided to welcome the continued arrivals of Iraq’s best warplanes.

Although some Pentagon officials may not have known what was going on in the beginning, top officials in the administration of President George H.W. Bush likely did shortly thereafter. Throughout the 1990-1991 Gulf War, US officials passed as many as three demarches a week to the Iranian government of President Rafsanjani, by way of Swiss intermediaries due to the absence of official diplomatic relations between the two countries. The Iranians in turn sent messages of their own to US officials through the Swiss.[xxiv]

As surprised as the Iranians were by the first appearance of Iraqi warplanes, they appear to have been even more unprepared for the ill-fated effort to evacuate the Iraqi Navy based in Umm Qasr to the Iranian port of Bandar-e-Khomeini. Only three vessels survived the journey and reached Iranian territorial waters before being sunk by coalition aircraft. According to the Iraqi records, of the surviving crewmembers, at least nine were still being held as prisoners in Iran as of January 1993.[xxv] Saddam’s audio tapes reveal that he held out similar hopes for Iraq’s navy as he did the air force in sending them to Iran. As he explained, “Then, after sending them there, we can return them here so that they can act against allied forces.”[xxvi] Unlike the Iraqi Air Force, however, not enough navy ships survived the perilous journey across Persian Gulf waters to be of much military value to Iran. In contrast, the loss of many of Iraq’s best warplanes remained on Saddam’s mind, even in the month’s just prior to the 2003 War. In another audio recording, he lamented, “The Iranians are even stronger than before; they now have our air force.”[xxvii]

As the US-led invasion of Iraq loomed in 2003, Iraq’s warplanes that had spent the previous dozen years in Iran would have done little to alter the balance of military power arrayed against Saddam’s regime. Had they survived the 1990-1991 Gulf War in Iraq, they likely would have experienced a fate similar to the remainder of Iraq’s Air Force, which fell into disrepair and didn’t fly a single sortie against invading coalition forces in 2003. Their inadvertent escape from this fate would permit their future return to Iraq under very different circumstances, fighting another enemy altogether. The forthcoming second part of this article will follow the story through the 2003 Iraq War and its aftermath, concluding in the present day.  


[i] The roughly 725,000 digitized pages of the Kuwait Dataset were shared with the Iraq Research and Documentation Project in 2000. The records were closed to researchers between 2003 and 2015. Prior to their reopening, the only publications based on them were a few articles and Ph.D. dissertation by Ibrahim al-Marashi. See Ibrahim al-Marashi, “Saddam’s Security Apparatus During the Invasion of Kuwait and the Kuwaiti Resistance,” Journal of Intelligence History, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Winter 2003), 61-86, Ibrahim al-Marashi, “The Struggle for Iraq: Understanding the Defense Strategy of Saddam Hussein,” Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 7, No. 2 (June 2003), 1-10, and Ibrahim al-Marashi, “The Nineteenth Province: The Invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 Gulf War from the Iraqi Perspective” (Ph.D. Thesis: Cambridge University, 2004).

[ii] For the works based on records that were released to and previously available at the Conflict Records Research Center (CRRC), see Kevin M. Woods, The Mother of All Battles: Saddam Hussein’s Strategic Plan for the Persian Gulf War (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2008), Kevin M. Woods and Mark E. Stout, “Saddam’s Perceptions and Misperceptions: The Case of ‘Desert Storm,’” Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 33, No. 1 (February 2010), 5-41, Kevin M. Woods and Mark E. Stout, “New Sources for the Study of Iraqi Intelligence During the Saddam Era,” Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 25, No. 4 (August 2010), 547-587, Amatzia Baram, “Deterrence Lessons from Iraq: Rationality is Not the Only Key to Containment,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 91, No. 4 (July/August 2012), 76-90, Avner Golov, “Deterrence in the Gulf War: Evaluating New Evidence,” The Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 20, No. 3 (2013), 453-472, and Norman Cigar, “Did Iraq Expect a Nuclear Desert Storm? Deterrence, Paradigms, and Operational Culture in a Weapons of Mass Destruction Environment,” War in History, Vol. 21, No. 3 (2014), 274-301.

[iii] For the most recent works based on the Kuwait Dataset, see Joseph Sassoon and Alissa Walter, “Diaries of Iraqi Soldiers: Views from inside Saddam’s army,” International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2 (2018), 183-198, and Joseph Sassoon and Alissa Walter, “The Iraqi Occupation of Kuwait: New Historical Perspectives,” Middle East Journal, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Autumn 2017), 607-628.

[iv] For particularly useful works that have taken up this task, see Andrew J. Bacevich and Efraim Inbar (eds.), The Gulf War of 1991 Reconsidered (New York: Routledge, 2003), and Jeffrey A. Engel (ed.), Into the Desert: Reflections on the Gulf War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[v] Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, The General’s War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1995).

[vi] Rick Atkinson, Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993).

[vii] For a few examples, see Tom Clancy with Frederick M. Franks, Into to the Storm: A Study in Command (New York: Berkeley Publishing Group, 1997), Tom Clancy with Chuck Horner and Tony Koltz, Every Man a Tiger: The Gulf War Air Campaign (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1999), and Edward J. Marolda and Robert J. Schneller, Sword and Shield: The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf War (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2001).

[viii] For example, see Micah L. Sifry and Christopher Cerf (eds.), Gulf War Reader: History, Documents, Opinions (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1991), James Piscatori (ed.), Islamic Fundamentalisms and the Gulf Crisis (Chicago: The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1991), Muhammad Hasanayn Haykal, Illusions of Triumph: An Arab View of the Gulf War (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), Lawrence Freedman and Efraim Karsh, The Gulf Conflict, 1990-1991: Diplomacy and War in the New World Order (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993)  and Amatzia Baram and Barry Rubin (eds.), Iraq’s Road to War (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993).

[ix] Be sure to see the forthcoming Samuel Helfont, “The Gulf War’s Afterlife: Dilemmas, Missed Opportunities, and the Post-Cold War Order Undone,” Texas National Security Review, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Spring 2021).

[x] Williamson Murray and Kevin M. Woods, The Iran-Iraq War: A Military and Strategic History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

[xi] Wafīq al-Sāmmarā’ī, Ḥuṭām al-Bawwāba al-Sharqiyya [Ruins of the Eastern Gate] (Kuwait: al-Qabas Publishing House, 1997), 267.

[xii] ʻAlī Akbar Hāshimī Rafsanjānī, Hāshimī Rafsanjānī; Kārnāmah va khāṭirāt-i sāl-i 1369-Iʻtidāl va pīrūzī[Hashimi Rafsanjani; Records and Memories Year 1369-Moderation and Victory], Qadir Bastani (ed.) (Tehran: Revolutionary Education Publishing Office, 2013), 465, 475-476, 486-487. The author is grateful to Omer Carmi of Tel Aviv University for his time and help in identifying, sharing, and utilizing this source.

[xiii] Rafsanjānī, Hāshimī Rafsanjānī; Kārnāmah va khāṭirāt-i sāl-i 1369, 488-489.

[xiv] Sāmmarā’ī, Ḥuṭām al-Bawwāba al-Sharqiyya, 262, and Rafsanjānī, Hāshimī Rafsanjānī; Kārnāmah va khāṭirāt-i sāl-i 1369, 463-464.

[xv] This document is cited in Woods, The Mother of All Battles, 193.

[xvi] CRRC, SH-MISC-D-001-943, “Handwritten note signed by Saddam Hussein; Correspondence from the Ministry of Defense,” January 26-27, 1991.

[xvii] CRRC, SH-GMID-D-001-945, “Army Archive for events that occurred in the period from February 17-20, 1991,” February 20, 1991.

[xviii] CRRC, SH-GMID-D-001-949, “Iraqi planes delivered to Iran during the 1991 war,” August 15, 1991.

[xix] CRRC, SH-MODX-D-001-291, “A 1992 report on Iranian efforts to obtain nuclear weapons after the collapse of the Soviet Union,” March 31, 1992.

[xx] Sāmmarā’ī, Ḥuṭām al-Bawwāba al-Sharqiyya, 262, and Rafsanjānī, Hāshimī Rafsanjānī; Kārnāmah va khāṭirāt-i sāl-i 1369, 463-464.

[xxi]. Rafsanjānī, Hāshimī Rafsanjānī; Kārnāmah va khāṭirāt-i sāl-i 1369, 465-466.

[xxii] CRRC, SH-GMID-D-000-749, “Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) reports of military cooperation between Iraq and Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e-Khalq in Baghdad,” July-September 1992.

[xxiii] Sāmmarā’ī, Ḥuṭām al-Bawwāba al-Sharqiyya, 264, 266-267.

[xxiv] David Crist, The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran (New York: The Penguin Press, 2012), 386.

[xxv] Woods, The Mother of All Battles, 195-196.

[xxvi] This audio file is cited in Kevin M. Woods, David D. Palkki, and Mark E. Stout, The Saddam Tapes: The Inner Workings of a Tyrant’s Regime 1978-2001 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 183.

[xxvii] This record is cited in Kevin M. Woods, Michael R. Pease, Mark E. Stout, Williamson Murray, and James G. Lacey, The Iraqi Perspectives Report: Saddam’s Senior Leadership on Operation Iraqi Freedom from the Official U.S. Joint Forces Command Report (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2006), 40.

About the Author

Michael Brill

Global Fellow;
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University

Michael P. Brill is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, where his research focuses on Ba'thist Iraq.

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History and Public Policy Program

The History and Public Policy Program makes public the primary source record of 20th and 21st century international history from repositories around the world, facilitates scholarship based on those records, and uses these materials to provide context for classroom, public, and policy debates on global affairs.  Read more