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History of Kuwait

The country of Kuwait has a '''History which dates to ancient times.

Ancient History

The Greeks

In 3rd century BC, the Ancient Greeks colonized the island, Failaka, on today's Kuwait coast under Alexander the Great and named it "Ikaros". Some believe the name came from an island off the Greek coast, where it is believed that the mythical Icarus was buried, which resembled Failaka. Others however believe it was named so due to its heat and the belief that it was close to the sun. (For recent archaeological activities at Failaka visit the website of Kuwaiti-Slovak Archaeological Mission (KSAM) )

In 127 BC out of the ruins of the Seleucid Greek Empire, Characene was founded at the head of the Gulf in borders similar to present day Kuwait. Its capital was Charax Spasinou, "The Fort of Hyspaosines". The city was an important port in the trade from Mesopotamia to India and provided port facilities for the great city of Susa, further up the Tigris River. Trajan, the Roman emperor, visited Charax in 116 AD, during his invasion of Parthia, and watched the ships leaving for India. He reportedly lamented the fact that he was not younger so that he could, like Alexander, have gone there himself.

The Founding of Kuwait

The Anaza and Bani Utbah (Early Migration and Settlement)

Kuwait was founded in the early eighteenth century by members of the Bani Utbah tribe in the year 1705. Kuwait was then known as Guraine; the Bani Utbah established the town and port of Guraine and called it Kuwait ("little fort," from kut, "fort", ultimately derived from Persian kud, meaning "city") In the first half of the eighteenth century, the great grandfather's of the Al-Khalifa, Al-Sabah, Al-Jalahma arrived at Kuwait. They were descendants of the Anizah tribe who gradually migrated in the early eighteenth century from Nejd to the shores of the Persian Gulf. According to one local tradition, the Sabahs migrated south to flee drought in Najd in 1710, but found conditions bleaker. Finding conditions no better there, they finally migrated north to Kuwait where they found water and consequently settled. On the last leg of the journey they moved to the north and arrived at Kuwait in 1716. When they arrived at Kuwait, the great grandfather's of the Al-Khalifa, Al-Sabah, Al-Jalahma found a settlement by the Bani Utbah . Possibly the Bani Utbah had built a fortress from which the name Kuwait, a diminutive of kut or fortress, derives. Al Khalifa , Al-Sabah ,and Al Jalahma then entered under the umbrella of the Bani Utbah. They also raised the Al Sulaimi flag which belongs to the Bani Utbah .This flag was mentioned by lorimer in his gazetteer as being a stripped flag with four red stripes and 3 white stripes The Bani Utbah migrated from Kuwait in 1732 to Zubarah and Furaiha in Qatar passing the torch to the Al Khalifa ,Al-Sabah,and Al Jalahma.

Early Political and Economic Development

Early Economy

Peace in a region dominated by the Bani Khalid, as well as internal problems that kept other regional powers from interfering, allowed the Al Khalifa) ,Al-Sabah),and Al Jalahma to develop new maritime skills. Kuwait had arguably one of the best natural harbors in the Persian Gulf; its location allowed it to benefit from the caravan trade to Aleppo and Baghdad, Shatt al-Arab trade, and from smuggling trade into Ottoman territory that high tariffs encouraged. the Al Khalifa ,Al-Sabah ,and Al Jalahma's self-sufficiency to the desert was abandoned as they became linked to this trading network that included trade in horses, wood, spices, coffee, dates and especially pearls; Kuwait was located within close sail of the pearl banks that stretched down the Persian Gulf coast. In the summer, boats sailed for pearls; in the winter, they turned to entrepôt trade.

Early Political Environment

Trade became the basis of the economy and the Al Khalifa ,Al-Sabah,and Al Jalahma developed new political and social arrangements to organize life in a settled economy. Tribal traditions were retained, but were placed within a complex occupational and social stratification; trade became tightly and hierarchically organized. Pearl divers were distinguished occupationally from ropepullers, captains, or merchants. The proceeds from the pearling industry were divided on the basis of occupation; at the top, a stratum of merchants, the core of which composed of the Al Khalifa) ,Al-Sabah,and Al Jalahma , became the elite. Above the merchants were the Al-Sabah family, who early on enjoyed some preeminence.
The al-Sabahs
Soon after the colony was founded, a Sabah became leader, ruling until his death in 1762. One tradition has it that political preeminence went to the Sabahs as part of an explicit agreement: in 1716 the heads of the al-Khalifa, al-Sabah, and al-Jalahima agreed to give the Sabahs preeminence in government and military affairs, subject to consultation, while the Khalifas controlled local commerce and the Jalahima maritime affairs. Another account has it that after reaching Kuwait the Bani Utub held a council and elected a representative to go to Basra to explain their peaceful intent to the Ottomans. The man chosen was a Sabah, Sabah I bin Jaber. Sabah diplomacy may have also been important with neighbouring tribes, especially as Bani Khalid power declined.

Many theories exist as to the source and origin of Sabah power. The Sabahs, because of their role in the caravan (as opposed to sea) trade, developed closer ties with the desert, and as a result became the tax collectors there, an important revenue source. Their rise has also been attributed to administrative functions; control of the harbor required administration and also increased the Shaikh's power by giving him access to resources independent of the desert, hence some independence from tribal alliances. The port also gave the Shaikh a territorial base just as Kuwait's entrepôt economy, oriented to fixed land and sea routes, caused the nomads to become sedentary and desert grazing for shipbuilding, pearling, and long-distance trade. As the people became more linked to the land, the settled became ascendent over the bedu, and the stakes of politics changed. As the political unit was slowly tied to the land, the idea of a people to a place emerged and enhanced the Shaikh's power.

In 1762 Sabah I died and was succeeded by his youngest son, Abdullah. Shortly after Sabah's death, in 1766, the al-Khalifa and, soon after, the al-Jalahima, left Kuwait en masse for Zubara in Qatar. Domestically, the al-Khalifa and al-Jalahima had been among the top contenders for power. Their emigration left the Sabahs in undisputed control, and by the end of Abdullah I's long rule (1762-1812), Sabah rule was secure, and the political hierarchy in Kuwait was well established, the merchants deferring to direct orders from the Shaikh. By the 19th century, not only was the ruling Sabah much stronger than a desert Shaikh but also capable of naming his son successor.

The Merchants
Sabah family rule, though well established, remained limited until well into the 20th century. This is because the merchants, owing to their financial power, could still check Sabah designs. The financial influence of the merchants came from their control of trade and imports, duties on which sustained the Shaikh. Because wealth was imbedded in movable property, refuge was tolerated by neighbouring Shaikhs, and Britain intervened only when important interests were at stake, secession was an effective merchant tactic. A large secession could reduce the shaikhdom's economic and military power and create a refuge of future dissidents.

Foreign Relations

Kuwait's first contact with Britain occurred in 1775 when first plague, then the Persians, struck Basra and East India Company made arrangements to have the Persian Gulf-Aleppo Mail Service diverted through Kuwait.

Also during this period, the British established a base in the region. The British became increasingly interested in Kuwait, and the Middle East in general, as the Germans made plans to extend their proposed Berlin-Baghdad railway into Kuwait, where they intended to locate a coaling station.

The Assassination of Muhammad bin Sabah

Although Kuwait was nominally governed from Basra, the Kuwaitis had traditionally maintained a relative degree of autonomous status; their cultural integration with the emirates of the Gulf formed a network of tribal and trade relationships stronger than the tie to Ottoman Iraq (Anscombe 1997 p. x). In the 1870s, Ottoman officials were reasserting their presence in the Gulf, with a military intervention in 1871—which was not effectively pursued—where family rivalries in Kuwait and Qatar were breeding chaos. The Ottomans were bankrupt, and when the European banks took control of the Ottoman budget in 1881, additional income was required from Kuwait and the Arabian peninsula. Midhat Pasha, the governor of Iraq, demanded that Kuwait submit to Ottoman rule. The al-Sabah found diplomatic allies in the British Foreign Office. In May 1896, Shaikh Muhammad Al-Sabah was assassinated by his half-brother, Mubarak al-Sabah (the Great) who, in early 1897, was recognized, by the Ottoman sultan, as the qaimmaqam (provincial sub-governor) of Kuwait.

  • Anscombe, Frederick F. 1997. The Ottoman Gulf: The Creation of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, (Columbia University Press).

Mubarak the Great

In July 1897, Mubarak invited the British to deploy gunboats along the Kuwaiti coast. This led to what is known as the First Kuwaiti Crisis, in which the Ottomans demanded that the British stop interfering with their empire. In the end, the Ottoman Empire backed down, rather than go to war.

In January 1899, Mubarak signed an agreement with the British which pledged that Kuwait would never cede any territory nor receive agents or representatives of any foreign power without the British Government's consent. In essence, this policy gave Britain control of Kuwait's foreign policy. The treaty also gave Britain responsibility for Kuwait's national security. In return, Britain agreed to grant an annual subsidy of 15,000 Indian rupees (£1,500) to the ruling family. In 1911 Mubarak raised the taxes; therefore, three of wealthy business men "Ibrahim Al-Mudhaf, Helal Al-Mutairi, and Shamlan bin Ali" led a protest against Mubarak and they made Bahrain the main trade point for them which negatively affected the Kuwaiti economy. However, Mubarak went to Bahrain and apologized for raising the taxes and the three business men returned to Kuwait. In 1915 Mubarak the Great died and was succeeded by his son Jaber II Al-Sabah for just over one year until on his death in early 1917 his brother Sheikh Salim Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah succeeded him.

The Anglo-Ottoman Convention

Despite the Kuwaiti government's desire to either be independent or under British rule, in the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913, the British concurred with the Ottoman Empire in defining Kuwait as an "autonomous caza" of the Ottoman Empire and that the Shaikhs of Kuwait were not independent leaders, but rather qaimmaqams (provincial sub-governors) of the Ottoman government.

The convention ruled that Shaikh Mubarak had authority over an area extending out to a radius of 80 km, from the capital. This region was marked by a red circle and included the islands of Auhah, Bubiyan, Failaka, Kubbar, Mashian, and Warba. A green circle designated an area extending out an additional 100 km, in radius, within which the qaimmaqam was authorized to collect tribute and taxes from the natives

The Border War with Najd

After World War I, the Ottoman Empire was defeated and the British invalidated the Anglo-Ottoman Convention, declaring Kuwait to be an "independent sheikhdom under British protectorate." The power vacuum left by the fall of the Ottomans sharpened conflict between Kuwait and Najd. Shaikh Salim Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah insisted that Kuwait was in full control of all territory out to a radius of 140km from the capital; however, the ruler of Najd, Abdul Aziz ibn Abdul Rahman ibn Saud, argued, in September 1920, that the borders of Kuwait did not extend past the walls of the capital. ibn Saud noted that the Convention had never been ratified and that Kuwait was not effectively in control of the disputed territory.

In May 1920 ibn Saud's Wahhabi Bedouins of Nejd had attacked a Kuwaiti detachment in southern Kuwait, forcing its retreat. In October they raided Jahra, 40km from the capital battles occurred in which the Kuwaitis were mostly victorious. In response, the British deployed gunboats, armored cars and aircraft. The Bedouins withdrew.

The Uqair Protocol

The 1920s and 30s saw the collapse of the pearl fishery and with it Kuwait's economy. This is attributed to the invention of the artificial cultivation of pearls.

In response to the various Bedouin raids, the British High Commissioner in Baghdad, Sir Percy Cox, imposed the Uqair Protocol of 1922 which defined the boundaries between Iraq and Nejd; and between Kuwait and Nejd.

On April 1, 1923, Shaikh Ahmad al-Sabah wrote the British Political Agent in Kuwait, Major John More, "I still do not know what the border between Iraq and Kuwait is, I shall be glad if you will kindly give me this information." More, upon learning that al-Sabah claimed the outer green line of the Anglo-Ottoman Convention (April 4), would relay the information to Sir Percy.

On April 19, Sir Percy stated that the British government recognized the outer line of the Convention as the border between Iraq and Kuwait. This decision limited Iraq's access to the Persian Gulf at 58 km of mostly marshy and swampy coastline. As this would make it difficult for Iraq to become a naval power (the territory did not include any deepwater harbours), the Iraqi King Faisal I (whom the British installed as a puppet king in Iraq) did not agree to the plan. However, as his country was under British mandate, he had little say in the matter. Iraq and Kuwait would formally ratify the border in August. The border was re-recognized in 1932.

In 1941 on the same day as the German invasion of Russia (22 June) the British took total control over Iraq and Kuwait. (The British and Russians would invade the neighboring Iran in September of that year).

By early 1961, the British had withdrawn their special court system, which handled the cases of foreigners resident in Kuwait, and the Kuwaiti Government began to exercise legal jurisdiction under new laws drawn up by an Egyptian jurist. On June 19, 1961, Kuwait became fully independent following an exchange of notes with the United Kingdom.

The boundary with Saudi Arabia was set in 1922 with the Treaty of Uqair following the Battle of Jahrah. This treaty also established the Kuwait-Saudi Arabia Neutral Zone, an area of about 5,180 km². (2,000 sq. mi.) adjoining Kuwait's southern border. In December 1969, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement dividing the Neutral Zone (now called the Divided Zone) and demarcating a new international boundary. Both countries share equally the Divided Zone's petroleum, onshore and offshore.

Kuwait's northern border with Iraq dates from an agreement made with Turkey in 1913. Iraq accepted this claim in 1932 upon its independence from Turkey. However, following Kuwait's independence in 1961, Iraq claimed Kuwait, under the pretense that Kuwait had been part of the Ottoman Empire subject to Iraqi suzerainty. In 1963, Iraq reaffirmed its acceptance of Kuwaiti sovereignty and the boundary it agreed to in 1913 and 1932, in the "Agreed Minutes between the State of Kuwait and the Republic of Iraq Regarding the Restoration of Friendly Relations, Recognition, and Related Matters."

The Invasion and Rebuilding of Kuwait

In the 1980s Kuwait, fearful of Iran after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. Kuwait sent large sums of money [5 Billion US$] to Iraq. As a consequence of this Iran attacked Kuwait's oil tankers, and Kuwait was forced to seek protection from the United States, which sent warships to the Persian Gulf.

Kuwait was then invaded and annexed by Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) in August 1990. Hussein's primary justifications included a charge that Kuwaiti territory was in fact an Iraqi province, and that annexation was retaliation for "economic warfare" Kuwait had waged through slant drilling into Iraq's oil supplies. The monarchy was deposed after annexation, and an Iraqi governor installed.

U.S. President George H.W. Bush condemned the invasion, and led efforts to drive out the Iraqi forces. Authorized by the United Nations Security Council, an American-led coalition of 34 nations fought the First Persian Gulf War to reinstate the Kuwaiti Emir. Following several weeks of aerial bombardment, a U.S.-led United Nations (UN) coalition began a ground assault on February 23, 1991 that completely removed Iraqi forces from Kuwait in four days. After liberation, the UN, under Security Council Resolution 687, demarcated the Iraq-Kuwait boundary on the basis of the 1932 and the 1963 agreements between the two states. In November 1994, Iraq formally accepted the UN-demarcated border with Kuwait, which had been further spelled out in Security Council Resolutions 773 and 883.

Kuwait has spent more than five billion dollars to repair oil infrastructure damaged during 1990–1991 (see Kuwaiti oil fires).

In 2003, Kuwait served as the major staging base for the coalition forces in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq; it was the only Arab nation to publicly support the invasion. Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah Became The Emir of Kuwait in January 18, 2006

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