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Events Leading Up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq

US Hostages During Desert Shield

Project: Events Leading Up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq
Open-Content project managed by Derek, KJF, mtuck

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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

Category Tags: Iraq Invasion of Kuwait, US Hostages During Desert Shield

Joseph Wilson and Saddam Hussein, during their August 6 meeting.Joseph Wilson and Saddam Hussein, during their August 6 meeting. [Source: Joseph Wilson / New York Times]Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad (see July 31, 1990 and August 1-2, 1990), is admitted to an unexpected and impromptu meeting with Saddam Hussein. Wilson, determined not to let Hussein get the better of him in front of the Iraqi photographers present at the meeting, refuses to do anything that could be construed as bowing to Hussein (an effect Hussein is known to strive to create with his “guests”) and is careful not to laugh for fear a picture could be taken out of context by Iraqi propagandists. As Wilson will later recall, “It dawned on me that the last thing in the world that I wanted to be beamed around the world was a picture of me yukking it up with Saddam Hussein.” Hussein proposes a solution to the Iraq-Kuwait conflict, involving the US giving its blessing to Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait (see August 2-4, 1990) and in return promising to provide cheap oil to the US from Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil fields. He also promises not to strike against Saudi Arabia unless that country allows itself to be used as a launching pad for a strike against Iraq. If the US reacts militarily to the invasion, Hussein says, then the US will be responsible for the “spilling of the blood of ten thousand soldiers in the Arabian desert.” Wilson will later write, “There it was then, the carrot of cheap oil coupled with the stick of dead American soldiers.” Wilson, in turn, presses for Hussein to allow foreign citizens in general, and American citizens in particular, to leave Iraq immediately (see August 4, 1990). Hussein asks if such a request indicates that the US is planning to launch its own military response; Wilson responds that he knows nothing of any such plans, but that he intends “to be here so long as there is a role for diplomats to play in resolving this situation peacefully.” The meeting adjourns with nothing being agreed upon; Wilson has no power to negotiate on behalf of the US, Wilson does not trust Hussein to keep any such bargains, and most importantly, the US has not shown any indication of any willingness to allow Hussein to stay in Kuwait. [Vanity Fair, 1/2004; Wilson, 2004, pp. 118-123]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Joseph C. Wilson

Category Tags: Iraq Invasion of Kuwait, US Hostages During Desert Shield

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

Category Tags: Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Iraq Invasion of Kuwait, US Hostages During Desert Shield

US diplomat Joseph Wilson meets with Iraq’s Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz and asks what Iraq intends to do with the thousands of US citizens in Iraq and Kuwait if the US Embassy decides that most of its personnel should leave. Wilson wants to ensure that no more Americans will be captured and used as hostages (see August 4, 1990, August 8, 1990, and August 17-23, 1990). Wilson is particularly concerned about the 2,000 or so Americans in Kuwait. Aziz says that Iraq will honor its obligations under the Geneva and Vienna Conventions, which specify that innocent civilians must be allowed to leave a war zone and not be held against their will. Wilson informs his State Department superiors in Washington of Aziz’s promises and recommends that every American be moved out of Kuwait as soon as possible—if not out of the region entirely, then at least to Baghdad. Wilson has little confidence in Aziz’s assurances, calling the minister a “lying son of a b_tch” in his communique. Wilson later learns that the decision goes all the way to President Bush, who decides to follow Wilson’s recommendation and order all but the ambassador, Nat Howell, and a skeleton staff to abandon the Kuwait embassy. The US wants to keep the Kuwait embassy open to show that it does not accept Iraq’s claim that Kuwait is no longer a sovereign state and therefore does not warrant its own diplomatic representation from other countries. By August 24, around 120 Americans, many of them diplomats and staffers from the Kuwait embassy, and their families, arrive at the US Embassy in Baghdad. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 135-137]

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Geneva Conventions, US Department of State, Tariq Aziz, Nat Howell, Joseph C. Wilson

Category Tags: Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Iraq Invasion of Kuwait, US Hostages During Desert Shield

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

Category Tags: Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Iraq Invasion of Kuwait, US Hostages During Desert Shield

Iraqi officials break their promise to allow the 120 or so Americans who have recently arrived in Baghdad from Kuwait (see August 17, 1990) to leave the country. Ranking US diplomat Joseph Wilson is furious. He storms into the Iraqi Foreign Ministry and, failing to find Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, leaves a message for the minister calling him a liar (he substitutes the word “prevaricator” when the Iraqi protocol official suggests using a less inflammatory term). Wilson and his Baghdad embassy colleagues turn their attention to getting the Kuwaiti embassy staffers and their families out of the country, with first priority going to the women and children. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: Tariq Aziz, Joseph C. Wilson

Category Tags: Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Iraq Invasion of Kuwait, US Hostages During Desert Shield

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

Category Tags: Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Iraq Invasion of Kuwait, US Hostages During Desert Shield

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

Category Tags: Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Iraq Invasion of Kuwait, US Hostages During Desert Shield

As tensions escalate between the US and Iraq, Iraqi officials circulate a note to all the embassies in Baghdad, directing them to register all of the civilians in their care with the authorities. Failure to comply can result in execution, the note implies. Such registration can only be done in person at Iraqi governmental offices; Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, knows that bringing American citizens in for registration may well result in those Americans being taken hostage. He is housing some 60 Americans at the ambassador’s residence for their protection. He will later write: “It was clearly a way for the Iraqis to replenish their stock of hostages. The choice, theoretically, was either to turn over Americans or to defy the note and risk execution.” Instead of making the choice, Wilson uses the order to publicly defy the Iraqis. He schedules a press conference and has a Marine make him a hangman’s noose. Wearing the noose, he tells reporters that if Saddam Hussein “wants to execute me for keeping Americans from being taken hostage, I will bring my own f_cking rope.” The press conference, like all of the embassy press conferences, is off the record, but journalists release the story anyway. A garbled, erroneous version from a French news outlet has the Iraqis planning to hang Wilson by sundown. Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, angered and embarrassed by the press coverage, attempts to dress down Wilson that evening, but Wilson refuses to back down. Instead, the Iraqis withdraw the request. Soon after, President Bush sends Wilson a cable lauding his courage and his outspokeness (see November 29, 1990). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 153-154; Unger, 2007, pp. 311] Conservative columnist Robert Novak co-writes a piece about Wilson that says, “He shows the stuff of heroism.” Novak will later reveal the covert CIA status of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as an act of political retaliation (see July 14, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 153-154]

Entity Tags: Tariq Aziz, Joseph C. Wilson, Robert Novak, Saddam Hussein, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

Category Tags: Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Iraq Invasion of Kuwait, US Hostages During Desert Shield

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

Category Tags: Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Iraq Invasion of Kuwait, US Hostages During Desert Shield

President Bush sends US Acting Ambassador to Iraq Joseph Wilson a telegram lauding his heroism in standing up to Saddam Hussein (see September 20, 1990). Bush writes in part: “It is relatively easy to speak out from the safety and comfort of Washington; what you are doing day in and day out under the most trying conditions is truly inspiring. Keep fighting the good fight; you and your stalwart colleagues are always in our thoughts and prayers.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 154]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, George Herbert Walker Bush, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

Category Tags: Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Iraq Invasion of Kuwait, US Hostages During Desert Shield

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

Category Tags: Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Iraq Invasion of Kuwait, US Hostages During Desert Shield

After a meeting between Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Jordan’s King Hussein, in which the king exhorted the Iraqi leader to free the 120 or so American hostages in Iraqi custody in order to avoid the possibility of US retaliation (see Late November, 1990), Hussein announces that Iraqi forces are now strong enough to withstand a US military strike, so the hostages may depart. After a chaotic few days of arranging transport for the newly released hostages, the number of Americans in Baghdad dwindle to fewer than ten: the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, Joseph Wilson, and a few embassy staff members. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 165-166]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Hussein bin Talal, Joseph C. Wilson

Category Tags: Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Iraq Invasion of Kuwait, US Hostages During Desert Shield

One of the many air strikes launched against Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Storm.One of the many air strikes launched against Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Storm. [Source: US Air Force]The US launches a massive air assault against Iraq in retaliation for that country’s invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990). The air assault begins the day after a UN deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait expires (see November 29, 1990). F-117 Stealth bombers hit Baghdad with an array of high-tech bombs and missiles; many of the explosions are televised live, or on briefly delayed feeds, on CNN, which launches virtually 24-hour coverage of the air strikes. In the first 48 hours of the war, 2,107 combat missions drop more than 5,000 tons of bombs on Baghdad alone, nearly twice the amount that incinerated Dresden in World War II.
'Thunder and Lightning of Desert Storm' - US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), announces the beginning of hostilities by transmitting the following: “Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the United States Central Command, this morning at 0300, we launched Operation Desert Storm, an offensive campaign that will enforce the United Nation’s resolutions that Iraq must cease its rape and pillage of its weaker neighbor and withdraw its forces from Kuwait. My confidence in you is total. Our cause is just! Now you must be the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm. May God be with you, your loved ones at home, and our country.” [US Navy, 9/17/1997]
Initial Attacks Obliterate Iraqi Navy, Much of Air Force, Many Ground Installations - The attack begins with an assault of over 100 Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAMs) launched from US naval vessels in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, and attack helicopter strikes on Iraqi radar installations near the Iraq-Saudi Arabian border. The assaults destroy much of Iraq’s air defense and command-and-control capabilities. The missile assault is quickly followed by fighter, bomber, and assault helicopter strikes which continue pounding at Iraqi government buildings, power stations, dams, military sites, radio and television stations, and several of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. The strikes essentially obliterate the Iraqi Navy, and drastically cripple the Iraqi Air Force. (Between 115 and 140 aircraft and crews of the Iraqi Air Force flees to Iran over the course of the war, a move that surprises US commanders, who expected the aircraft and their crews to attempt to flee to Jordan, not Iran. The Iranians will never give Iraq back its aircraft, and will not release Iraqi air crews for years to come.) A US Navy review later calls the combined Navy-Marine air campaign, conducted in concert with US Air Force strikes, “successful beyond the most optimistic expectations.” The Navy later reports that “allied air forces dropped over 88,500 tons of ordnance on the battlefield.” [US Navy, 9/17/1997; NationMaster, 12/23/2007] Iraqi anti-aircraft counterattacks are surprisingly effective, downing around 75 US and British aircraft in the first hours of attacks. The US media does not widely report these downings, nor does it give much attention to the dozens of pilots and air crew captured as POWs. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
'The Mother of All Battles' - Five hours after the first attacks, Baghdad state radio broadcasts a voice identified as Saddam Hussein. Hussein tells his people that “The great duel, the mother of all battles has begun. The dawn of victory nears as this great showdown begins.” [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
US Embassy Helped Locate Targets for Air Strikes - Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the last American to leave Baghdad (see January 12, 1991), and his staff provided critical assistance to the US battle planners in choosing their initial targets. Over the months, Wilson and his staff developed a “hostage tracking system,” monitoring and recording the movements of the American hostages as they were transferred from site to site to be used as human shields in the event of a US strike (see August 4, 1990 and August 8, 1990). Wilson and his staff were able to identify some 55 sites that were being used around the country, presumably some of the most critical military and infrastructure sites in Iraq. Wilson gave that information to the Pentagon. He will later write, “I was gratified when several months later, on the first night of Desert Storm, long after the hostages had been released, many of those sites were ones hit by American bombs.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 141]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Navy, United Nations, US Department of the Marines, US Department of the Air Force, US Department of the Army, CNN, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Norman Schwarzkopf, Joseph C. Wilson, US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Saddam Hussein

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Pre-war Attacks against Iraq, The Decision to Invade, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, US Hostages During Desert Shield

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