Persian Gulf States Table of Contents

KUWAIT CAPTURED THE WORLD'S ATTENTION on August 2, 1990, when Iraqi forces invaded and occupied the country, catalyzing a series of events that culminated in military intervention and ultimate victory by United States-led coalition forces in February 1991. In 1993 it appeared that the invasion and its aftermath would have a lasting effect on the people, the economy, and the politics of Kuwait.

Once a small gulf shaykhdom known locally as a center for pearl diving and boat construction, Kuwait came to international prominence in the post-World War II era largely because of its enormous oil revenues. Yet its history as an autonomous political entity is much older, dating back to the eighteenth century. At that time, the town of Kuwait was settled by migrants from central Arabia who arrived at what was then a lightly populated fishing village under the suzerainty of the Bani Khalid tribe of Arabia. Members of one family, the Al Sabah, have ruled Kuwait from that time.

Since 1977 Kuwait has been ruled by Shaykh Jabir al Ahmad al Jabir Al Sabah and his designated successor, Shaykh Saad al Abd Allah as Salim Al Sabah, the prime minister and crown prince. In the postwar period, these men have supported, with some ambivalence, the strengthening of popular participation in decision making as provided for in the constitution.

Kuwait is located at the far northwestern corner of the Persian Gulf, known locally as the Arabian Gulf. It is a small state of about 17,818 square kilometers, a little smaller than the state of New Jersey. At its most distant points, it is about 200 kilometers north to south and 170 kilometers east to west.

Shaped roughly like a triangle, Kuwait borders the gulf to the east, with 195 kilometers of coast. Kuwait includes within its territory nine gulf islands, two of which, Bubiyan (the largest) and Warbah, are largely uninhabited but strategically important. The island of Faylakah, at the mouth of Kuwait Bay, is densely inhabited. It is believed to be the outermost point of the ancient civilization of Dilmun, which was centered in what is present-day Bahrain. Faylakah is the site of an ancient Greek temple built by the forces of Alexander the Great. Kuwait's most prominent geographic feature is Kuwait Bay, which indents the shoreline for about forty kilometers, providing natural protection for the port of Kuwait and accounting for nearly onehalf the state's shoreline.

To the south and west, Kuwait shares a long border of 250 kilometers with Saudi Arabia. The boundary between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia was set by the Treaty of Al Uqayr in 1922, which also established the Kuwait-Saudi Arabia Neutral Zone of 5,700 square kilometers. In 1966 Kuwait and Saudi Arabia agreed to divide the Neutral Zone; the partitioning agreement making each country responsible for administration in its portion was signed in December 1969. The resources in the area, since known as the Divided Zone, are not affected by the agreement, and the oil from onshore and offshore fields continues to be shared equally between the two countries.

The third side of the triangle is the 240 kilometers of historically contested border to the north and west that Kuwait shares with Iraq. Although the Iraqi government, which had first asserted a claim to rule Kuwait in 1938, recognized the borders with Kuwait in 1963 (based on agreements made earlier in the century), it continued to press Kuwait for control over Bubiyan and Warbah islands through the 1960s and 1970s. In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and, shortly thereafter, formally incorporated the entire country into Iraq. Under United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 687, after the restoration of Kuwaiti sovereignty in 1991, a UN commission undertook formal demarcation of the borders on the basis of those agreed to in 1963. The boundary was demarcated in 1992, but Iraq refuses to accept the commission's findings.

Kuwait has a desert climate, hot and dry. Rainfall varies from seventy-five to 150 millimeters a year across the country; actual rainfall has ranged from twenty-five millimeters a year to as much as 325 millimeters. In summer, average daily high temperatures range from 42 C to 46 C; the highest recorded temperature is 51.5 C. The summers are relentlessly long, punctuated mainly by dramatic dust storms in June and July when northwesterly winds cover the cities in sand. In late summer, which is more humid, there are occasional sharp, brief thunderstorms. By November summer is over, and colder winter weather sets in, dropping temperatures to as low as 3 C at night; daytime temperature is in the upper 20s C range. Frost rarely occurs; rain is more common and falls mostly in the spring.

The land was formed in a recent geologic era. In the south, limestone rises in a long, north-oriented dome that lies beneath the surface. It is within and below this formation that the principal oil fields, Kuwait's most important natural resource, are located. In the west and north, layers of sand, gravel, silt, and clay overlie the limestone to a depth of more than 210 meters. The upper portions of these beds are part of a mass of sediment deposited by a great wadi whose most recent channel was the Wadi al Batin, the broad shallow valley forming the western boundary of the country. On the western side of Ar Rawdatayn geological formation, a freshwater aquifer was discovered in 1960 and became Kuwait's principal water source. The supply is insufficient to support extensive irrigation, but it is tapped to supplement the distilled water supply that fills most of the country's needs. The only other exploited aquifer lies in the permeable zone in the top of the limestone of the Ash Shuaybah field south and east of the city of Kuwait. Unlike water from the Ar Rawdatayn aquifer, water from the Ash Shuaybah aquifer is brackish. Millions of liters a day of this water are produced for commercial and household purposes.

The bulk of the Kuwaiti population lives in the coastal capital of the city of Kuwait. Smaller populations inhabit the nearby city of Al Jahrah, smaller desert and coastal towns, and, prior to the Persian Gulf War, some of the several nearby gulf islands, notably Faylakah.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress