Kuwait Behind the Scenes of a Thriller

by | Mar 28, 2023 | Our Man In Kuwait

Kuwait Behind the Scenes

Our Man In Kuwait is a work of fiction but  the political thriller was inspired by what happened behind the scenes of life at the time.

Operation Vantage OMIK
I was born and brought up in Kuwait and I vividly recall the period and what it was like living under the threat of invasion by Iraq in 1960 and 1961. My father, Ian Byres was the Preventative Health Officer for the Kuwait Oil Company based in Ahmadi.

At the end of 1960 Ian Fleming came to Kuwait to write a book about the oil industry which was commissioned by KOC. Due to objections by the Kuwaiti Government it was never published.

During the stay he got to know my father very well and spent many days at our bungalow at 5 Main Street. They had much in common. Both had the same Christian names, were of Scottish extraction and shared a great interest in exotic creatures which sometimes broke loose from my father’s personal zoo. I recall one contest between a viper and scorpion on our green carpet when Ian Fleming was there. He went out with my father on one of his hawking expeditions into the desert which he later described as one of the highlights of his time in Kuwait.

During that period the great charmer Kim Philby, based in Beirut, made a tour of the Gulf States including Kuwait and he modelled for the character of Pip Foster in Our Man In Kuwait.

Philby himself eventually defected to the Soviet Union in 1963 when doubts about his loyalty were about to be confirmed by US and British secret services. His defection shocked the tight expat community of Ahmadi at the time who felt it reflected on their own integrity.

 

“Whitehall’s greatest fear was that domestic unrest, primarily in Kuwait but also in Iraq, could endanger the flow of oil to the United Kingdom.”

CDR Richard A. Mobley, USN, (Ret.)

Kuwait Behind the Scenes through political eyes…

In 1958, Abdul Karim Qasim seized power in Iraq, the Hashemite monarchy established by King Faisal I in 1921 under the auspices of the British. King Faisal II, Prince Abd al-Ilah, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Said as well as many other members of the Iraqi royal family were murdered by the military. Baghdad Radio announced that the Army had liberated the Iraqi people from domination by a corrupt group put in power by “imperialism”.

The Hashemite regime had been a reliable ally of the West as it tried to hold back the Soviets. The change of power produced a volatile situation. Uncontrollable mobs took to the streets of Baghdad. Several foreign nationals staying at the Baghdad Hotel were killed in the chaos that followed. The British Embassy was ransacked and a member of staff killed in the process. Iraq became a republic.

  Government decision making in Iraq centered around Qasim, who … ‘gives many who meet him the impression that he is verging on madness.’
CDR Richard A. Mobley, USN, (Ret.)

Cross currents of communism, Arab and Iraqi nationalism, anti-Westernism and the ‘positive neutrality’ of President Gamal Abdel Nasser of the United Arab Republic played out their effects in the region. This raised fears of a domino effect and that the pro-Western oil regime of Kuwait would fall to united Arab nationalism. By March 1959 Iraq withdrew from the Baghdad Pact, a military alliance between Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey and the United Kingdom. In its place it created new alliances with left-leaning countries, including the Soviet Union. Because of their agreement with the USSR, Qasim’s government allowed the formation of an Iraqi Communist Party.

  The JIC convinced Whitehall the risk of invasion was high and… precipitated the dispatch of British military units to Kuwait during July 1961.
CDR Richard A. Mobley, USN, (Ret.)

In 1960, an Arab League declaration repositioned the Iraq-Kuwait border two miles north of the southernmost tip of Iraq’s Rumaila oil field. This led to an ongoing dispute made worse when Iraq alleged that Kuwait-based drilling was tapping into their oil fields.  On 25 June 1961, after Britain handed over authority to Kuwait, Qasim announced that Kuwait would be incorporated into Iraq. As well as massive oil reserves, the State of Kuwait had broad access to the Persian Gulf. The military threat resulted in a call by Sheikh Abdullah III Al-Salim Al-Sabah for British protection. Operation Vantage was launched on 30 June 1961. Air, sea and land forces were in place within days.
  The Secretary of the Cabinet railed against having to rely on soft, uncorroborated reporting…[including] ‘alarmist bazaar rumors of Qasim’s intentions.’
CDR Richard A. Mobley, USN, (Ret.)

The Kuwaiti combat contingents were led by Brigadier General al-Jaber al-Sabah and Colonel Saleh Mohammad Al-Sabah. They commanded the Kuwait 25th Commando Brigade and the Kuwait 6th Mechanised Brigade. Iraq did not attack and British forces were replaced by those of the Arab League. The UK had withdrawn completely by 19 October 1961. Qasim was killed in a coup in 1963 and Iraq recognised Kuwaiti independence. The military threat receded but Britain kept forces in abeyance until 1971. By mid-1970, Iraqi military presence along the border with Kuwait had increased but indicators of imminent danger were not present and British troops left the Gulf in 1971 as planned.

  Of key importance, UK leaders were predisposed to heed intelligence warnings.

CDR Richard A. Mobley, USN, (Ret.)

 

Kuwait Behind the Scenes from Whitehall’s Perspective

The Kuwait crisis convinced the British Government that the security of the Persian Gulf was above all endangered by the President of Iraq, Abd al-Karim Qasim. As a result, a new defense plan for Kuwait was endorsed by the British Cabinet in October 1961.  This plan – code-named  Sodabread – had significant consequences for the scale of Great Britain’s military deployment in the Persian Gulf, as it provided for a larger military force stationed in the area. The existing military base in Bahrain was strengthened and new accommodation for the additional troops was constructed on the island.

 

Links

British Policy In the Persian Gulf by Helen von Bismark

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