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History of Kuwait

Kuwait is primarily desert, yet has been settled by people for a significant amount of time. However it wasn't until the 200s BC when the Greeks arrived did the region become well known. Prior to this the land was almost completely inhospitable and only the coast could sustain life.

After Greek rule the Characin Dynasty was founded in modern day Kuwait in 127 BC. The capital of this kingdom became an important port city in the Persian Gulf trading routes, especially linking Mesopotamia to much of the world.

The next to arrive to the region were the Romans, but they expressed little interest in the lands. From this point until the 1700s the region was little more than a port shipping goods to and from the rest of the world. Just a couple miles inland there are no water sources as vegetation struggles to grow and the sustenance of life is nearly impossible.

In the early 1700s the Bani Utbah people, a desert dwelling people, arrived and took over the coastal regions, building a fort and naming the region Kuwait. These people, including the Al Khalifa, Al Sabah, Al Roumi, and Al Jalahima made life on the waters and got intimately involved in the Persian Gulf trade. As trade developed the Al Sabah family took greater and greater control of the economy.

The Al Sabah family took control of the colony with the others approval as the family became successful diplomats who encouraged trade and peace among their neighbors. However after the death of the first Sabah ruler, the Al Khalifa and Al Jalahima families left for Qatar in 1766. This allowed few possible proponents to the government and in 1775 the Al Sabah family welcomed the British East India Company to gain a strong ally, while magnifying their trade.

The industry, economy, and culture through the 1800s were based on trade and the pearl industry as the Al Sabah family continued to rule with the support of the merchants who controlled the pearl industry. This peace ended in 1871 when the Ottomans invaded to re assert their dominance, which they nominally held in the region for years. The Kuwaitis complied with Ottoman demands and requests for money, however sought independence and protection from the British. This led to family quarrels and the assassination of Sheikh Muhammad Al Sabah by his brother, Mubarak in 1896.

Mubarak sought British support as his brother's supporters fought his rule. The British were seeking greater control over the region so happily agreed. This though only led to Ottoman resentment and requests for the British to move out of the region, something the British declined. The British assisted Kuwait, but also took control of their foreign policy. This ended in 1913 when Britain recognized the Ottoman Empire's claim on the land. Mubarak died shortly afterward in 1915, leaving power to his sons.

In World War I the British and Ottomans fought and after the Brits claimed victory they declared Kuwait to be independent under British protection. This led to numerous border disputes as Bedouin in the southern desert fought Kuwaiti rule in 1921 and the Iraqis argued borders in the north. The modern day border with Iraq was set, which gives Kuwait much coastline and Iraq nearly nothing, but since the British controlled Iraq at the time, there was little the Iraqis could do.

At this same time the pearl industry was beginning to collapse, but oil was discovered in the late 1930s, shifting the economy forever. Due to the oil, during World War II the British took control of the region to prevent the Axis powers from gaining the oil and in order to maintain a steady stream of oil for the war.

In 1961 the United Kingdom granted Kuwait full independence. This immediately led to threats from Iraq of invasion, but with British and Saudi Arabian support the attacks never happened, although it established poor relations between the two countries that would last for years.

In the 1980s when Iraq and Iran went to war, Kuwait feared Iran more than Iraq, which led to the support of Iraq. In retaliation, Iran attacked the oil industry in Kuwait, leading to intervention from the United States on Kuwait's request. However, by 1990 the larger threat was from Iraq as they invaded the country to gain their oil supply and a deep water port on the Persian Gulf.

In just six days the Iraqis had taken the country of Kuwait as numerous people were killed. However with this invasion, Saudi Arabia and the United States moved in to defend Kuwait. Although it took them nearly six months to get involved, it only took them four days to remove the Iraqis from the country.

After the war Kuwait essentially cut off political ties to Iraq and has since maintained focusing on economic development. The country's huge oil industry has encouraged numerous foreigners to find temporary work in the country as today just under half the population actually holds citizenship.

This page was last updated: March, 2013