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Context of 'August 17-23, 1990: Iraq Announces All Foreign Citizens in Iraq and Kuwait to be Held Hostage'

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Over 100 Americans are trapped in the US Embassy in Kuwait City. Perhaps 2,000 Americans are hiding from Iraqi soldiers throughout the capital city, and at least 115 are already in Iraqi custody, essentially being held as hostages. Iraqi forces bring a number of Americans, mostly oilfield workers, to Baghdad, where they are put up at local hotels. The Iraqis do not allow the “freed” Americans to leave the hotels or meet with US Embassy officials. It is clear that though the Iraqis call them “guests,” they are hostages. Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, learns to his dismay that his superiors in the US are similarly reluctant to consider the Americans as hostages, arguing that if US officials begin calling them hostages, then the Iraqis will treat them as such. Perhaps Iraq is holding the Americans only until their control of Kuwait is complete, and will release them. But, except for the release of a single American girl (see Early August, 1990), the Iraqis release no hostages. Embassy personnel succeed in rounding up around 100 Americans, mostly workers for the Bechtel Corporation, and housing them in the confines of the Embassy building. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 117-118, 126]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bechtel

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson and the other US diplomats in Baghdad learn that the Iraqis have taken about 115 Americans as hostages (see August 4, 1990) and are placing them at strategic sites they consider most likely to be targeted by US air and ground strikes—in essence using the hostages as human shields. Two thousand Americans still remain trapped in Kuwait City, where Iraqis are, Wilson will write, “terrorizing the population.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 126]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Saddam Hussein inquires about the health of young British hostage Stuart Lockwood, a scene broadcast on Iraqi television and shown worldwide.Saddam Hussein inquires about the health of young British hostage Stuart Lockwood, a scene broadcast on Iraqi television and shown worldwide. [Source: BBC]Iraqi officials announce that their forces will hold the citizens from any country threatening Iraq as hostages until the threats are ended. According to US diplomat Joseph Wilson, currently holed up in the US Embassy in Baghdad with his fellow diplomats, staffers, and at least 100 Americans hoping for protection from Iraqi depredations, the Iraqi announcement ends the fiction that Iraq is holding these citizens as “guests” (see August 4, 1990 and August 8, 1990). Still, Saddam Hussein tries to maintain the fiction for the press; in what Wilson will describe as “one notorious television appearance,” Hussein ruffles the hair of a seven-year old British boy, Stuart Lockwood, and asks if he had had his milk that day. Wilson will write, “The scared look on Stuart’s face, and his parents’ equally frightened expressions, chilled viewers worldwide.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 133-134; NationMaster, 12/23/2007]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Stuart Lockwood, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Iraq abruptly announces that foreign women and children are free to leave the country, effectively releasing them as hostages (see August 17-23, 1990). Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, believes the release was in part precipitated by a humiliating news report from CBS’s Dan Rather. The Egyptian ambassador to Iraq had met earlier with Wilson, and discussed the need for the international community to heighten its propaganda campaign against Saddam Hussein. He noted that a statue of Hussein had recently been erected in Arab Knight Square in Baghdad, replacing a statue of an Arab warrior on horseback. At the same time, Iraqi police had forced businesses around the country calling themselves “Arab Knight” to change their names, telling them “there is only one Arab knight in Iraq and you are not it.” Since Hussein wants to be known as the Arab Knight, the Egyptian ambassador says, maybe the world should point out that true Arab knights do not hide behind the skirts of women or behind little children. Wilson liked the idea and passed it on to Rather, who filed a story containing the insult on August 22. On August 25, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher accused Hussein of “hiding behind the skirts of women.” Wilson will later write, “While we could not confirm that our campaign to humiliate Saddam was responsible for this decision, we were sure that our general strategy of confrontation (see August 8-9, 1990) had contributed to it.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 134-135]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Dan Rather, Margaret Thatcher, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Reverend Jesse Jackson.Reverend Jesse Jackson. [Source: Yann Gamblin / Corbis]What ranking US diplomat Joseph Wilson calls the “celebrity statesman tour” begins this month, with lawmakers and personages from all sides of the political spectrum visiting Iraq. Wilson notes that these visits, as well-meaning as they are, violate US and UN sanctions on non-accredited US citizens meeting with Saddam Hussein, and, in his opinion, help “create an illusion of legitimacy for the dictator.” Wilson will later write, “They would be photographed sitting attentively next to him, would make some inane antiwar comments to the camera and, as a reward, Saddam would bestow a few hostages on them (see August 17-23, 1990), enabling them to claim that they had been on an errand of mercy.” Wilson names as some of the visitors former attorney general and antiwar activist Ramsey Clark, former Texas Governor John Connally, sports icon Muhammad Ali (already visibly suffering from Parkinson’s disease), former British Prime Minister Edward Heath, German Prime Minister Willy Brandt, and Yusuf Islam, the musician formerly known as Cat Stevens (and whom Wilson misidentifies as Yousef Ibrahim). Wilson calls the visits “well-intentioned but misguided… a violation of international sanctions, and… dangerous, as Saddam had clearly demonstrated his penchant for taking hostages.” On the other hand, each hostage released into the custody of a celebrity is one more American safe from harm, so “we applauded each new release as we continued to press for the safe departure of all Americans.” Wilson and his staff decide to “be as supportive as possible; after all, even if the visitors were in technical violations of American law, they were our citizens and, as such, were legitimate beneficiaries of whatever consular support we could provide.” Wilson is particularly taken with one visitor, American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, whose stature and aplomb upstage even Hussein. Wilson is impressed that Jackson’s insistent and even confrontational tactics win the freedom of twenty Americans. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 145-146; Yusuf Islam, 9/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Jesse Jackson, Edward Heath, John Connally, Willy Brandt, Yusuf Islam, Ramsey Clark, Saddam Hussein, Muhammad Ali

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Iraq, and his remaining colleagues in the beleaguered US Embassy in Baghdad decide to use the Thanksgiving holiday as a chance to remind the US that Iraq is still holding some 120 Americans as hostages (see August 17-23, 1990). He has proposed to his superiors in Washington that he make a high-profile visit to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry to demand the release of the hostages, to be followed by an on-the-record press conference. Journalists would then join Wilson for Thanksgiving dinner at his home in Baghdad. He was told, “Nobody is going to tell you not to do it, but with the president traveling to Saudi Arabia to have Thanksgiving with the troops, the White House press office is concerned that you might step on the president’s story. That said, if you insist, feel free to go ahead. Just so you are aware of the concerns here.” Wilson and his colleagues decided to go through with the program. During dinner, CNN correspondent Richard Roth appears at Wilson’s home to announce that Iraqi officials have brought a contingent of American hostages to Baghdad for an on-camera Thanksgiving dinner. Does Wilson have a reaction? Roth asks. Wilson does indeed, and launches into a tirade, calling Iraq’s government “sadistic” for “parad[ing] hostages before the cameras as a propaganda tool while denying them access to their country’s embassy or consular officials.” Roth airs Wilson’s remarks on CNN. It is this impromptu condemnation of the Iraqi government, along with Wilson’s open defiance of Iraqi officials days before (see September 20, 1990), that prompts President Bush to send a laudatory letter to Wilson praising his courage and patriotism. (Wilson will give a copy of Bush’s cable to Roth, telling the reporter that he deserves the president’s praise as much as Wilson does.) [Wilson, 2004, pp. 160-161]

Entity Tags: Richard Roth, George Herbert Walker Bush, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, Joseph Wilson, has a breakthrough in his relentless efforts to win the freedom of the 120 or so American hostages being held by Iraq (see August 17-23, 1990). Wilson meets an Arab journalist who has considerable influence in the Gulf region. He tells her that President Bush has already concluded, in his opinion, that the loss of the hostages as a result of an American invasion would be lamentable but not enough to deter military action against Iraq. Therefore, Saddam Hussein is “deluding himself” if he thinks the hostages will prevent the US from launching an attack against Iraqi forces in Kuwait. The other side of the coin, he tells the journalist, is that if something untoward does happen to the hostages, “American anger might be such that the president would be forced to go to war to avenge that mistreatment.” It is wholly to Hussein’s benefit to release the hostages, Wilson argues. Ten days after that lunch, Wilson receives the minutes from a meeting between Algerian Foreign Minister Sid Ahmed Ghozali and the US Ambassador to Algeria, Chris Ross, in which Ghozali echoes Wilson’s message almost verbatim. Wilson later writes, “I was certain that my contact had been speaking to other Arab leaders, and I saw that the thesis was gaining some traction. It would soon get back to Saddam from Arab interlocutors. It did not matter how many times I told the Iraqis the risks they ran—they expected me to say it. But when a fellow Arab said the same thing, it would have far greater impact.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 164-165]

Entity Tags: Sid Ahmed Ghozali, Chris Ross, George Herbert Walker Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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