UNIKOM (UN Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission)

Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990, which was condemned by the international community (adoption by the UN Security Council of Resolution 660 (1990)) and resulted in arms and economic sanctions imposed on Iraq for failing to withdraw immediately and unconditionally. Iraq failed to meet the demands set by the further dozen UN Security Council Resolutions adopted between August and December 1990. By February 1991, the Government of Kuwait and cooperating Member States responded militarily, in line with Resolution 678 (1991) of the UN Security Council. By the end of the month, all Iraqi forces had withdrawn from Kuwait and Kuwait City had been liberated.

On 3 April 1991, the Security Council adopted Resolution 687(1991), which set detailed conditions for a cease-fire and established the machinery for ensuring implementation of those conditions. This resolution also created the demilitarized zone along the border between Iraq and Kuwait, to be monitored by a UN observer unit.

On 9 April 1991, the Security Council adopted Resolution 689 (1991) which approved the Secretary General’s plan for the establishment of the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM). The first team of UNIKOM arrived in the area the same month.

Its mandate, reviewed every six months by the UN Security Council, sought to monitor the Khawr ‘Abd Allah waterway between Iraq and Kuwait and the demilitarized zone (DMZ) extending 10 kilometers (6 miles) into Iraq and 5 kilometers (3 miles) into Kuwait. Its mission was to deter violations of the boundary through its presence in and surveillance of the DMZ and to observe any hostile or potentially hostile action mounted from the territory of one State to the other. Its headquarters were in Umm Qasr in Iraq. The mandate of the UNIKOM came to an end in October 2003, which required the withdrawal of all military and observer personnel.

In February 1993, following a series of incidents on the border, it was decided to increase UNIKOM’s strength and to expand its mandate was expanded in February 1993 by Security Council Resolution 806(1993), with the addition of an infantry battalion, to: take physical action to prevent, or redress, small scale violations of the DMZ and of the boundary between Iraq and Kuwait; and problems arising from the presence of Iraqi installations and citizens and their assets in the DMZ on the Kuwaiti side of the border. The addition of an infantry battalion marked a change in the appointments of Chief Military Observers to that of Force Commanders by January 1994.

Since the demarcation of the Iraq-Kuwait boundary in May 1993 by the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Boundary Demarcation Commission, and the relocation of Iraqi citizens found to be on the Kuwaiti side of the border back into Iraq, the situation along the DMZ has been generally calm.

However, air attacks against Iraqi targets by the United States of America and the United Kingdom in December 1998 and subsequent skirmishes over the “No-fly zones » affected operational aspects of the mission. On 14 November 1998 the Joint Air Operations Centre of the coalition forces advised UNIKOM to suspend all flights in the mission area until further notice. The flights were resumed on 16 November after planned air strikes against Iraq were called off. Flights of UNIKOM fixed-wing aircraft in Iraq were suspended again in connection with United States/United Kingdom air attacks from 16 to 19 December. On 22 December, the Iraqi authorities informed UNIKOM that they could not guarantee the safety of flights, owing to the conflict with the United States and the United Kingdom regarding the « no-fly » zones. The flights of the fixed-wing aircraft have therefore remained suspended. For the same reason, helicopter flights in the demilitarized zone were suspended on 22 December; they were resumed on 7 January 1999 on the Kuwaiti side only. As a precaution, military observers from the United Kingdom and the United States were redeployed on 17 December from patrol and observation bases in Iraq to bases on the Kuwaiti side of the DMZ.

On 4 January 1999, the Iraqi authorities requested UNIKOM to withdraw from Iraqi territory by 14 January all personnel of US and UK nationality. In response, the United Nations informed the Iraqi authorities of the precautions already taken. As for UK and US nationals assigned to UNIKOM headquarters in Umm Qasr, the United Nations stated that it relied on the Iraqi authorities to take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the headquarters and the personnel in it. During the reporting period, 141 ships docked at the port in Umm Qasr under the « oil-for-food » programme.

UNIKOM continued to maintain close and regular liaison with the authorities of both Iraq and Kuwait at various levels, including visits by the Force Commander to the two capitals and through the UNIKOM liaison offices in Baghdad and Kuwait City. Both the Kuwaiti and Iraqi governments cooperated with the mission in the conduct of its operations.

Chief Military Observers: April 1991 – July 1992: Major-General Gunther Greindl (Austria); July 1992 – August 1993: Major-General Timothy K. Dibuama (Ghana); August – December 1993: Brigadier-General Vigar Aabrek (Norway).

Force Commanders: January 1994 – December 1995: Major-General Krishna N.S. Thapa (Nepal); December 1995 – November 1997: Major-General Gian Giuseppe Santillo (Italy); December 1997 – November 1999: Major-General Esa Kalervo Tarvainen (Finland); November 1999 – November 2001: Major-General John Vize (Ireland); November 2001 – November 2002: Major-General Miguel Angel Moreno (Argentina); January 2003 – October 2003: Brigadier-General Upinder Singh Klair (India).

Strength: Were initially authorized: 300 military observers supported by international and local civilian staff.

In February 1993, following a series of incidents on the border, the Security Council decided to increase UNIKOM’s strength and to extend its terms of reference to include the capacity to take physical action to prevent violations of the DMZ and of the newly demarcated boundary between Iraq.

UNIKOM reached its maximum strength in February 1995, regrouping: 1,187 military personnel of all ranks; 254 military observers, with the support of international and local staff.

By October 2003, date of its withdrawal, UNIKOM’s strength was: 4 military observers, with the support of 131 civilian staff (38 international; 93 local).

Contributors to Military personnel: Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, China, Denmark, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Senegal, Singapore, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay and Venezuela (Five infantry companies drawn from UNIFIL and UNFICYP completed the personnel between April and June 1991).

Fatalities: 8 military personnel; 5 military observers; 4 international civilian staff; 1 local staff.

Expenditure: The overall cost was approximately $ 600 million, from inception through the full withdrawal of the UNIKOM in October 2003.

Financing: Assessments in respect of a Special Account with appropriations decided on by the General Assembly and proposed by the Secretary-General. Two thirds of the costs were borne by Kuwait, while contributions from Member States met the remaining third.

For more information, please consult the official UNIKOM website.