How Iraqis Remember The First Gulf War

CREDIT: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Former President George H.W. Bush, left, and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III talk about the Gulf War and liberation of Kuwait during an interview Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011, in Houston.

Twenty-five years after the first Iraq War, Operation Desert Storm is widely seen as a resounding American victory.

“Desert Storm was probably the single most successful military campaign in the history of warfare,” retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey told Stars and Stripes. “It was an astonishing display by the country.”

While the U.S. military successfully drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait, the plight of Iraqi civilians — many of whom suffered under then-dictator Saddam Hussein before, during, and after Desert Storm — is often overlooked.

Americans recall the time almost ethereally, but for many Iraqis, this time is filled with indelible memories. Deutsche Welle editor Emad M. Ghanim was a 15-year-old boy in southern Iraq when his mother informed him that Iraq invaded Kuwait. His father had called from work that morning, and in an Aesopian telephone conversation, revealed the few known details at that time to his family.

“In our hometown of Maysan the war began with a tremendous bang in the early hours of the morning,” Ghanim recounted to DW. “A bomb had hit the so-called ‘Yugoslavian Bridge,’ not far from our house, and destroyed it.”

The destruction of infrastructure left many Iraqis in precarious situations. Movement proved challenging, and families were forced to stay put in the line of fire.

“The collapse of this bridge meant, for me personally, that it became difficult for me to get to the other side of town,” Ghanim, who is now living in Germany, said. “We were all very afraid. I remember how my mother gathered us children together under a stairway, to protect us from being killed by shards of falling glass.”

For Iraqi author and poet Sinan Antoon, the Gulf War was a precursor to the future wars in Iraq. He recently told online magazine shakomakoNET about his reflections on the war.

“[R]emembering the Gulf War and its perpetrators and their allies and paying close attention to its destructive effects would disrupt the simplistic master narrative about Iraq and why it ended where it is now,” Antoon said. “I was always opposed to Saddam and the Ba’th and was against the invasion of Kuwait. However, what ‘Desert Storm’ did was destroy the infrastructure of Iraq and its social fabric. James Baker said that they bombed Iraq to ‘the pre-industrial age’.”

Antoon’s memory is far from rose-tinted. In a time before social media was around to document each perspective and amplify voices previously unheard, the bombing campaign that targeted Baghdad left an irreparable mark on Iraq.

“Bombing a society back to the preindustrial age is a genocidal crime,” Antoon, now based in New York where he teaches at NYU, said. “Add to that the economic embargo and its lethal effects on every facet of Iraqi life and society… Understanding the effects of that war would illuminate so much about the latter stages of destruction.”