Frontline Interview with Tariq Aziz: Iraqi Foreign minister
Q: In 1990, before the invasion of Kuwait where was Iraq heading? What were you trying to achieve?
Aziz: We went through a very long and costly war with Iran, for eight years, and by the end of that war, all the Iraqis including the leadership
were aspiring for a quiet life. People in Iraq rejoiced the cease fire on the 8th of August 1988.
The leadership was focusing domestically on rebuilding the country, those cities and towns which were destroyed during the war... improving
the standard of living of the people of Iraq.
Q: But it's still a big army which you had....
Aziz: The army was huge during the war, it numbered around one million soldiers, but immediately after the war, we cut down almost to the
half and even less than a half. By early 1990 our army was not larger than 350 or 400 thousand soldiers.
Our main focus internationally was to maintain good relations with our friends and partners, including the United States, and in the Arab scene
we were working very hard to make the experiment of the Arab Cooperation Council a success. We worked very closely with Jordan, with
Egypt, with Yemen, to develop this new experiment. There was a lot of meetings on the technical level, on the ministerial level....
We pushed very hard for Arab solidarity. So the policy of Iraq at that time, was a policy of responsibility in order to maintain peace, security in
the region, in the Arab world, to strengthen Arab solidarity.
Q: And to become an Arab super state?
Aziz: No. That is the wrong perception about Iraq. What Iraq wanted to tell the Arab world is not that I am the leader of the Arab world. Iraq
wanted to tell the Arab world that this is a model you can follow. A model of modern state, capable of defending itself and we succeeded in
defending ourselves against a very very difficult and dangerous threat so we wanted to tell the Arabs, here we are, that's what we have achieved,
look at it, if you like it, do the same.
The fact that Iraq struggled to bring back Egypt to the Arab League, shows that we were not thinking of competition on leadership, because if
you want to play that sort of a role in the Arab world, you would like to freeze Egypt, because Egypt is the biggest Arab country.
Q: Was it your long term goal to crush Israel?
Aziz: Honestly no. If you follow our policies in that period, first our concern about bringing Egypt back to the Arab world and you know what
Egypt had done before that with Israel.
Of course we were against the Israeli occupation of the Arab land and we supported our Arab brethren to liberate their occupied territories, but we
did not stand against their diplomatic efforts to achieve whatever they could achieve.
Q: July 17th, President Hussein appeared on television, and accused Kuwait of waging economic warfare. Why such a strong stand? Why threaten war?
Aziz: Well, that was not the first time President Saddam Hussein spoke about a war being raged against Iraq. In the final session of the Arab
summit, that was held late May 1990.... he said I would like to make a short statement. He said, "In the last few months, some Arab countries
have increased their oil production superficially, without any economic reason. This has led to a drop in our revenues. Each dollar less in price
means to us one billion in revenues for a year. We have fought a very long war, it was a very costly one and in this war we defended your
security. If you do not mean waging a war against Iraq, please stop it." That was said clearly and in a very responsible and quiet manner in the
presence of King Fahd, Sheik Jaber of Kuwait,Sheik Said of the Emirates and all the leaders of the Gulf including also, Mubarak and the other
Arab leaders who attended that summit.
Q: What did the Kuwaitis do?
Aziz: They did nothing. And he asked King Fahd, to help end this silly game which was hurting Iraq very severely. and he sent the Deputy
Prime Minister to King Fahd to urge him to arrange a limited summit between himself, I mean President Saddam Hussein, King Fahd, Sheik
Said and Sheik Jaber in order to discuss this question of the over production by Kuwait and the Emirates.
So, we did our best to to warn them in a friendly, brotherly, responsible manner that they were hurting Iraq very badly and we wanted them to
stop, stop this game.
Q: And by July 17th?
Aziz: By July 17th, nothing had changed, nothing has changed The Kuwaitis acted in an arrogant, irresponsible provocative manner and that led
to the deterioration of the situation.
Q: When was the possibility of putting troops into Kuwait first discussed?
Aziz: Kuwait never occurred in the mind of the leadership 'til the end of June 1990. We still hope that our efforts would succeed. The summit
ended sometime the first half of June, the Deputy Prime Minister went to see King Fahd and he promised to do something, he didn't keep his
By the end of June we started to realise that there is a conspiracy against Iraq, a deliberate conspiracy against Iraq, by Kuwait, organised, devised
by the United States. So when we came to that conclusion then we started thinking of how to react against the future aggressors on Iraq.
Q: So this fallen oil price, it was really serious?
Aziz: Of course. We were facing two options, either to stop servicing our debts and then being declared bankrupt in the international arena, by
our debtors, or we were to stop living well... we were not in an extravagant mood you see, but country needs several billion dollars a year to buy
food, medicine, spare parts, and to take into consideration that after 8 years of war, the people wanted a better living. So this was a real
conspiracy against Iraq, a deliberate threat to the security and status of Iraq in the region and in the world. And for no reason, there was a
difference between us about the borders, but the talks about them were very very quiet. It took us two years at that time to discuss details of the
borders. But if it took a long period we didn't think of that as very very serious and threatening but the situation of flooding the market with a lot
of oil and bringing about an economic collapse in Iraq was a serious threat.
Q: You had no option?
Aziz: I have always said that the decision we took in August 1990 was a defensive decision. Iraq did not need Kuwait. If we had Kuwait in our
mind for takeover, we could have done that in the '70s....if you look at the political scene, regionally and internationally it allowed such things,
more than it allowed in the '90s.
In 1975--1976, the Syrians invaded Lebanon. There was no reaction. There was a lot of terrorist attacks, and revolutionary organisations,
toppling regimes, changing Kings and Mayors and Presidents and we had a very strong relationship with the Soviet Union. But we didn't think
of Kuwait because we don't need Kuwait.
What we were thinking was creating a modern state in Iraq and a balance of power between us and Israel but we did not think of waging wars
with Israel. But we thought that the Arabs and Iraq need to create a balance of power, because the balance of power is the only way to to achieve
a reasonable peace.
Q: What was your assessment of what America would do when you moved on Kuwait?
Aziz: Our analysis was that it was foolish of Kuwait to threaten Iraq, if it was not pushed and backed by the United States. How could a tiny
emirate like Kuwait challenge Iraq in that way, if it did not agree on that with a super power?
The United States at that period was becoming the sole super power, the Soviet Union was at its weakest point and we knew very well that that
was an American plan, because Kuwait could do the economic war....
Q: But then why did you go ahead knowing the Americans would fight a war?
Aziz: We were expecting an Israeli aggression or an American aggression or both, during that period, regardless of whether we go to Kuwait or
not. That was our analysis, that was our conviction, that the United States, after the weakening of the Soviet Union, when George Bush started
to feel that he's the most powerful leader in the world. He decided to take over this region. He decided to put his hand on the oil reserves. He
couldn't do that successfully fully without destroying Iraq and destroying the military power of Iraq and removing this nationalist, patriotic
Q: So you knew from the beginning that America was likely to take action?
Aziz: Yes, we had no illusions about that. We thought that attacking them in Kuwait would change the balance in our favor because Kuwait was
still being used against us. Why not attack that which was being used against us? That could change the balance of power, at least slightly for our
The Americans started their preparations against Iraq since early 1990. In October 1989, I met with James Baker in Washington and I told him on
behalf of my President that we would like to have good relations with the new Administration as we had with the previous one and I told him that
we would like to cooperate with the United States in all fields.
There was a difficulty concerning selling agricultural material to Iraq. He understood my position and decided to solve half of the problem, but in
March 1990 they stopped their deal.
They were upset by the statement made by my President in the summit in Amman, but my President was very analytic in that statement and he
said that America is becoming the sole super power. Is America going to use that status in a civilised responsible manner for maintaining peace,
security, justice in the world, or America is going to use it to act aggressively and arogantly against nations.
When Bob Dole visited Iraq with a senatorial group in April 1990, the President was very clear then that we would like to have the best kind of
relations with the United States.
April Glaspie was present in that audience, I was present and they were very satisfied and made very, very positive reactions to his analysis and
to his statements. But George Bush wanted to take over the region and be something special in the history of the United States. He wanted to be
the strongest leader in the world, to take over the oil revenues, manipulate the international oil market and dominate the whole world.
Q: How did you think taking Kuwait would help you with your struggle with George Bush?
Aziz: First of all you have to punish those who are threatening you. This is normal in international conflicts, when you are sure that somebody is
near to you and he is being used by others against you, you have to do something against him.
Secondly we thought that being outside our country that might give us some advantages. That was the analysis at that time. But Kuwait was not
our main objective--if we had Kuwait in our mind, we could have done it 15 years before.