In the months following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, accusations of appeasement were directed at those who doubted the wisdom of adopting an uncompromisingly hard line towards Saddam Hussein. In practice, the history of appeasement of the Baathist regime in Iraq goes back many years and only came to an end on 2 August 1991, before these charges were made. It has been well-known in the Middle East for over twenty years that Saddam Hussein is a brutal and ambitious dictator with aspirations to dominate the oil-rich Arabian peninsula, indeed to succeed President Nasser as a regional Arab leader. In 1979, I visited almost all the states in the peninsula in the wake of the Iranian revolution. I discovered that the principal source of anxiety was not the spread of the Iranian revolutionary message but Iraqi attempts to dominate the smaller Gulf states. This was clear to Western governments and also, presumably, to Moscow, which had concluded a Treaty of Friendship with Iraq seven years earlier. However, such was the fear in the industrialised world of the destabilising influence of Khomeinism, as well as the odium attaching to Iran for the seizure of the staff of the American Embassy in Tehran, that no government sought to take pre-emptive action against the obvious Iraqi preparations to ‘teach Khomeini a lesson’.
When Iraqi forces invaded Iran in September 1980, the UN Security Council, at Iraqi urging, delayed meeting for a few days. When it met, it adopted a resolution which, while calling for a cease-fire, did not condemn the Iraqi action or call for Iraqi withdrawal from Iranian territory. Indeed, throughout the eight-year conflict, the Council only called for withdrawal when it was a question of Iranian forces withdrawing from Iraqi territory.
This was not the only example of pro-Iraqi bias shown by the Security Council between 1980 and 1988. When there was Council criticism of the actions of the belligerents, it was almost always scrupulously even-handed in spite of the fact that Iraq was more often than not the prime mover: for example, over initiation of the ‘tanker war’ in the Gulf, the bombardment of open cities and the use of poison gas. When the foreign naval armada, led by the United States, assembled in the Gulf in 1987, its task was to escort shipping off the Arab shore, thus freeing the Iraqi Air Force (equipped with the latest Soviet and French aircraft) to attack shipping plying to and from Iranian ports and oil terminals. Furthermore, while a stringent international arms embargo, Operation Staunch, was applied to Iran throughout the conflict at America’s insistence, the saturation of Iraq with modern weaponry and the transfer of military technology from East and West continued unabated.
After the cease-fire in 1988, no serious attempt was made by the Great Powers to coerce Iraq into reinstating the 1975 Agreement with Iran on the land frontier and the division of the Shatt-el-Arab waterway, which Saddam had publicly torn up before invading Iran. Nor was there any move to establish the impartial body to enquire into responsibility for the conflict which was the nearest the Security Council came in Resolution 598 (1987) to meeting the Iranian demand for the ‘identification and punishment of the aggressor’. Virtually no progress had been made towards the implementation of this resolution by the time Saddam invaded Kuwait and presented the Iranians with all their important war aims, asking nothing in return.