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One day after the ultimatum on Iraq to withdraw expired on 15 January 1991 – by which time the military forces of the anti-Iraq coalition were at sufficient strength – the attack on Iraq began. The coalition justified its actions on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 678 of 29 November 1990, which called for the use of ‘all necessary means’ (i.e., military force) to end the occupation of Kuwait.
The campaign, Operation Desert Storm, began with a heavy bombardment by planes and cruise missiles of targets in Iraq and Kuwait, which lasted for several weeks and caused massive destruction. Iraq tried unsuccessfully to mobilize public opinion in the Arab world by attacking civilian targets in Israel with Scud missiles. The bombardment was followed by a ground offensive in Kuwait.
The coalition succeeded in dislodging Iraqi forces from Kuwait and from Saudi Arabia on February 24. In a land battle lasting one hundred hours, Iraqi forces were crushingly defeated. A cease-fire was declared on February 28. Umm al-Maarik (‘the Mother of all Battles’), as Saddam Hussein had called the war – referring to the battle of Qadisiyya, in the 7th century, against the Persians – was over.
By conservative estimates, in the forty-three days of the air and land war, the Iraqis suffered 90,000 casualties, while the anti-Iraq coalition lost several hundred soldiers. This was just 15,000 fewer victims than the war with Iran, which had lasted eight years. The material damage ran into many tens of billions of dollars.