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Gulf War Stage 1

Tension in the Persian Gulf

Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Canadian Armed Forces members deployed to the region. They joined the largest international coalition of military forces since the Second World War.

2 August 1990 – 14 January 1991


Gulf War

Uneasy neighbours

Located next to each other, Iraq and Kuwait are in the heart of the oil rich Middle East. The two nations have had a tense relationship with one another. Iraq felt that Kuwait should be part of Iraq. They also argued that Kuwait was drilling into Iraqi oil fields without permission.

A pilot’s helmet in front of a CF-18 warplane on the tarmac of the Qatar airfield. November 13, 1990. Photo: Department of National Defence IWC90-421-24

Iraq threatens aggression

The Iran Iraq War in the 1980s created new tensions in the region. Arguments over oil production and debts worsened Iraq's relationship with its neighbours. The West was very concerned with Iraq's ability to restrict access to a large part of the world's oil supply. The United States and other countries began to call out Iraq for their human rights abuses.

Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq, felt the international community was being unfair. Diplomatic relations deteriorated. Iraq threatened its neighbours with claims of biological and chemical weapons. Hussein soon moved tens of thousands of troops to the Iraqi Kuwait border. In response, military forces in the region went on high alert.

On the attack

On 2 August 1990, roughly 100,000 Iraqi soldiers invaded Kuwait. Within hours, the United Nations passed a resolution condemning the attacks. A Coalition of over 35 countries, led by the United States, soon came together to stand up for freedom. It was the largest union of forces since the Second World War. They gave Iraq a deadline to withdraw their troops. The United Nations also gave authorization to use any means necessary to enforce this. Not all Coalition countries provided military support. Some imposed economic sanctions or suspended aid to Iraq to put pressure on the Middle Eastern nation. A naval blockade by a Coalition fleet helped cut off shipping to the Iraqi regime. Operation Desert Shield was the codename for the Coalition's military build up.

Canadian warships conduct replenishment at sea en route to the Persian Gulf: (from left) HMCS Athabaskan, Protecteur and Terra Nova. September 1990. Photo: Department of National Defence

Attempts to negotiate

In late August 1990, Saddam Hussein appeared on television with Western hostages. He used several tactics to try to gain the upper hand in negotiations with the Coalition. United Nations and Coalition countries still demanded that the Iraqis withdraw from Kuwait. If they did not, Coalition forces would launch a major military campaign to drive them out.

The Canadian response

On 10 August 1990, the Canadian government announced it would offer military support to the Coalition forces. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) involvement in the Gulf War was code named Operation Friction. Our main military contributions were our warships and aircraft. On 24 August 1990, the destroyers HMCS Terra Nova, HMCS Athabaskan and the supply ship HMCS Protecteur sailed from Halifax for operations in the Persian Gulf. On 8 October 1990, Canada's first CF 18 jet fighters arrived in the Middle East. It was the first time in decades that Canadian air and naval forces worked together in a war zone. It was also the first time Canadian women served in combat roles during a conflict. More than 4,000 CAF members served in the Gulf War. At its peak, there were 2,700 Canadian personnel in the region at one time.

A defensive position on ‘Bunker Hill’ at the end of the runway of the Canadian base in Qatar. December 2, 1990. Photo: Department of National Defence IWC90-409-28

Joint headquarters

The Gulf War was the first time the CAF naval and air commands supported each other during a conflict. The commands were first unified in 1968. The CAF created a joint headquarters in Manama, Bahrain in November 1990, which organized Canada's military efforts during the Gulf War.

Naval and air operations during Desert Shield

The Coalition fleet patrolled the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield. Our warships stopped vessels trying to evade the blockade. Five Sea King helicopters worked with the warships, performing a variety of tasks.

Lieutenant-Colonel Don Matthews, commanding officer of the No. 439 Squadron (Desert Cats), prepares for a mission. February 22, 1991. Photo: Department of National Defence ISC91-5385

Canadian warplanes patrolled the Coalition's defensive lines, turning back Iraqi planes that came too close. Sometimes our CF-18s provided air cover for Coalition ships. Canadian transport planes carried personnel, cargo and refueled other Coalition planes in the air.


Classroom materials

Classroom materials main page

Lesson plan: 5-11

P.S. Thank you!

Lesson plan: Ages 12-18

Dear friend in the Gulf War

historical sheet

Gulf War

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