Archaeological finds on Failaka, the largest of Kuwait’s nine islands,
suggests it was a trading post at the time of the ancient Sumerians. Failaka
appears to have continued to serve as a market for approximately 2,000
years, and was known to the ancient Greeks. Despite its long history as
a market and sanctuary for traders, Failaka appears to have been abandoned
as a permanent settlement in the 1st century A.D. Kuwait's modern history
began in the 18th century with the founding of the city of Kuwait by the
Uteiba, a subsection of the Anaiza tribe, who are believed to have traveled
north from Qatar.
Threatened in the 19th century by the Ottoman Turks and various powerful
Arabian Peninsula groups, Kuwait sought the same treaty relationship Britain
had already signed with the Trucial States (UAE) and Bahrain. In January
1899, the ruler Sheikh Mubarak Al Sabah --"the Great"-- signed an agreement
with the British Government that pledged himself and his successors neither
to cede any territory, nor to receive agents or representatives of any
foreign power without the British Government's consent, in exchange for
protection and an annual subsidy. When Mubarak died in 1915, the population
of Kuwait of about 35,000 was heavily dependent on shipbuilding (using
wood imported from India) and pearl diving.
Mubarak was succeeded as ruler by his sons Jabir (1915-17) and Salim
(1917-21). Kuwait’s subsequent rulers have descended from these two brothers.
Sheikh Ahmed al-Jabir Al Sabah ruled Kuwait from 1921 until his death in
1950, a period in which oil was discovered and in which the government
attempted to establish the first internationally recognized boundaries;
the 1922 Treaty of Uqair set Kuwait’s border with Saudi Arabia and also
established the Kuwait-Saudi Arabia Neutral Zone, an area of about 5,180
sq. km. (2,000 sq. mi.) adjoining Kuwait's southern border.
Kuwait achieved independence from the British under Sheikh Ahmed’s successor,
Sheikh Abdullah al-Salim Al Sabah. By early 1961, the British had already
withdrawn their special court system, which handled the cases of foreigners
resident in Kuwait, and the Kuwaiti Government began to exercise legal
jurisdiction under new laws drawn up by an Egyptian jurist. On June 19,
1961, Kuwait became fully independent following an exchange of notes with
the United Kingdom.
Kuwait enjoyed an unprecedented period of prosperity under Amir Sabah
al-Salim Al Sabah, who died in 1977 after ruling for 12 years. Under his
rule, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement dividing the Neutral
Zone (now called the Divided Zone) and demarcating a new international
boundary. Both countries share equally the Divided Zone's petroleum, onshore
and offshore. The country was transformed into a highly developed welfare
state with a free market economy.
In August 1990, Iraq attacked and invaded Kuwait. Kuwait's northern
border with Iraq dates from an agreement reached with Turkey in 1913. Iraq
accepted this claim in 1932 upon its independence from Turkey. However,
following Kuwait's independence in 1961, Iraq claimed Kuwait, arguing that
Kuwait had been part of the Ottoman Empire subject to Iraqi suzerainty.
In 1963, Iraq reaffirmed its acceptance of Kuwaiti sovereignty and the
boundary it agreed to in 1913 and 1932, in the "Agreed Minutes between
the State of Kuwait and the Republic of Iraq Regarding the Restoration
of Friendly Relations, Recognition, and Related Matters."
Following several weeks of aerial bombardment, a UN-mandated coalition
led by the United States began a ground assault in February 1991 that liberated
Kuwait. During the 7-month occupation by Iraq, the Amir, the Government
of Kuwait, and many Kuwaitis took refuge in Saudi Arabia and other nations.
The Amir and the government successfully managed Kuwaiti affairs from Saudi
Arabia, London, and elsewhere during the period, relying on substantial
Kuwaiti investments available outside Kuwait for funding and war-related
expenses. Following liberation, the UN, under Security Council Resolution
687, demarcated the Iraq-Kuwait boundary on the basis of the 1932 and the
1963 agreements between the two states. In November 1994, Iraq formally
accepted the UN-demarcated border with Kuwait, which had been further spelled
out in UN Security Council Resolutions 773 and 883. Subsequent violations
by Iraq of these agreements led directly to the Second Persian Gulf War
in the early 21st century.
Fulfilling a promise made during the period of Iraqi occupation, the
Amir held new elections for the National Assembly in 1992. On May 4, 1999,
the Amir once again dissolved the National Assembly. This time, however,
it was done through entirely constitutional means, and new elections were
held on July 3, 1999. The most recent general election, held in July 2003,
was considered free and fair, although there were some credible reports
of vote buying by the government and the opposition.
During the 2002-03 build up to and execution of Operation Iraqi Freedom
(OIF), Kuwait was a vital coalition partner, reserving a full 60% of its
total land mass for use by coalition forces and donating upward of $350
million in assistance in kind (primarily fuel) to the effort. In the aftermath
of OIF, Kuwait has been consistently involved in reconstruction efforts
in Iraq, pledging $1.5 billion at the October 2003 international donors’
conference in Madrid.