Iraq’s leadership continued to hunker down through most of D+17. Saddam Hussein remained in Tikrit, coordinating political and military responses as the situation facing the nation on multiple fronts continued to deteriorate. In moderate Arab states around the region, Iraqi ambassadors were being summoned by national leaders to explain Iraq’s intentions with regards to Kuwait, and the growing standoff on the Iranian border. The diplomats gave the standard statement that had been received earlier in the day from Baghdad: Iraq was moving to clear its forces from Kuwait as quickly as possible. However, Iran’s increasingly belligerent stance along their shared border was delaying completion of the withdrawal. This message was a crafty combination of half-truths and prevarications that achieved Iraq’s goal of buying time.
The Soviet departure from Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula continued on. By noon, all Soviet military personnel and diplomats had left Iraq. In South Yemen, the remaining warplanes and troops were packing up and preparing to leave. Ethiopia was to be their next destination. Moscow’s next move remained a mystery. Its plans for the Persian Gulf area had effectively gone up in smoke and it remained unclear what would come next. A complete exit from the region perhaps? Or, was this a regrouping and consolidation before the next phase? Then there was the matter of Soviet prisoners of war in Saudi Arabia. The United States had assured the Soviet government through neutral nations that these men would remain in US hands and be treated in line with the international standard for POWs. A humiliating end for elite paratroopers, however, there was little Moscow could do to change it.
Iran was emerging as the region’s next threat. Its troop movements and aggressive maneuvering over the past days suggested a resumption of its war with Iran at any moment. On D+17, the continuing movement of infantry and armored divisions to the border opposite Basra was being reinforced by Iranian air force and naval units into the area. For Saddam Hussein, as well as the rest of the Arab world, Iran’s objectives were unclear. Was Tehran intent on rekindling the war with its neighbor purely to take advantage of Iraq in its perceived moment of weakness? Or was the true goal not Iraq, but the tiny emirate to its south?
Iraq’s continuing occupation of Kuwait posed a complex problem. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Cooperation Council GCC) members did not look lightly upon the notion of Iraq permanently controlling Kuwait and its vast oil reserves. Moderate Arab states in the region such as Jordan were of a similar mind. Iranian control, and occupation of Kuwait, was no better of a prospect. Iran’s government was hostile to its neighbors on the other side of the Persian Gulf. More alarming was the fact that Iran possessed a large and well-equipped military that outclassed the forces of Saudi Arabia and the other GCC nations. In the minds of every diplomat and royal family member from Riyadh to Muscat, unease was growing. Whether it was Iran or Iraq who controlled Kuwait mattered little. The small, oil-rich nation was not going to satisfy the appetites of either regional power. Saudi Arabia and the smaller GCC member-states would be next. And before long, the bulk of the world’s oil reserves would be controlled by a single government.
It was clear to the Saudi royal family that only the United States had the military power and diplomatic leverage to prevent this nightmare scenario from becoming reality. Unfortunately for the Saudis and the rest of the Gulf countries, US focus on the Middle East and Persian Gulf appeared ready to diminish now that the Soviet threat had been checked.