Kuwait's modern history begins with the 1710 founding of Quarain (Little Fort) by various clans of the Anaiza, who had wandered north from Nejd and Qatar, fleeing a drought. They settled in the Iraqi territory of the Ottoman Empire, along the northern shores of the Persian Gulf, where they engaged in pearling and sea-trading.
The al-Jalahimas, al-Khalifas, and al-Sabahs
Kuwait was ruled primarily by three families, the al-Jalahimas, al-Khalifas, and al-Sabahs. The al-Jalahimas were mostly involved with the sea-trade, the al-Khalifas focused on local commerce, and the al-Sabahs controlled the government and the military. ~1752, Shaikh Sabah bin Jaber formed the al-Sabah dynasty, and, in 1776, was succeded by Shaikh Abdullah bin Sabah. The al-Sabahs were considered by the Ottoman sultans to be semi-independent regional officials of Ottoman Iraq, although the Kuwaiti government repeatedly argued that Kuwait was a fully independent nation-state.
The British Empire
Between 1775-1779|79 the British Persian Gulf-Aleppo Mail Service was diverted through Kuwait, from Persian-occupied Basra, Iraq. Also during this period, the British East India Company established a base in the region. The British became increasingly interested in Kuwait, and the Middle East in general, as the Germans made plans to extend their proposed Berlin-Baghdad railway into Kuwait, where they intended to locate a coaling station.
The Assassination of Muhammad bin Sabah
Although Kuwait was, technically, part of Basra, the Kuwaitis had traditionally maintained a relative degree of independence. In the late 19th Century, Iraqi officials were demanding that Kuwait totally submit to Iraqi rule. In May 1896, Shaikh Muhammad bin Sabah was assassinated by his half-brother, Mubarak al-Sabah (the Great) who, in early 1897, was recognized, by the Ottoman sultan, as the qaimmaqam (provincial sub-governor) of Kuwait.
It is commonly believed that Mubarak's coup was assisted by the British government.
Mubarak the Great
In July 1897, Mubarak invited the British to deploy gunboats along the Kuwaiti coast. This led to what is known as the First Kuwaiti Crisis, in which the Ottomans demanded that the British stop interfering with their empire. In the end, the Ottoman Empire backed down, rather than go to war.
In January 1899, Mubarak signed an agreement with the British which pledged that Kuwait would never cede any territory nor receive agents or representatives of any foreign power without the British Government's consent. In essence, this policy gave Britain control of Kuwait's foreign policy. The treaty also gave Britain responsibility for Kuwait's national security. In return, Britain agreed to grant an annual subsidy of 15,000 Indian rupees (£11,500) to the royal family.
The Anglo-Ottoman Convention
Despite the Kuwaiti government's desire to either be independent or under British rule, in the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913, the British concurred with the Ottoman Empire in defining Kuwait as an "autonomous caza" of the Ottoman Empire and that the Shaikhs of Kuwait were not indepenent leaders, but rather qaimmaqams (provincial sub-governors) of the Ottoman government.
The convention ruled that Shaikh Mubarak had authority over an area extending out to a radius of 80km, from the capital. This region was marked by a red circle and included the islands of Auhah, Bubiyan, Failakah, Kabbar, Mashian, and Warba. A green circle designated an area extending out an additional 100km, in radius, within which the qaimmaqam was authorized to collect tribute and taxes from the natives.
The Border War with Nejd
After World War I, the Ottoman Empire was defeated and the British invalidated the Anglo-Ottoman Convention, declaring Kuwait to be an "independent shaikhdom under British protectorate". The power vacuum left by the fall of the Ottomans, sharpened conflict between Kuwait and Najd. Shaikh Salim al Sabah insisted that Kuwaiti was in full control of all territory out to a radius of 140km from the capital, however, the ruler of Nejd, Abdul Aziz ibn Abdul Rahman ibn Saud, argued, in September 1920, that the borders of Kuwait did not extend past the walls of the capital. ibn Saud noted that the Convention had never been ratified and that Kuwait was not effectively in control of the disputed territory.
In May 1920 ibn Saud's Wahhabi Bedouins of Nejd had attacked a Kuwaiti detachment in southern Kuwait, forcing its retreat. In October they raided Jahra, 40km from the capital. In response, the British deployed gunboats, armoredc cars, and aircraft. The Bedouins withdrew.
The Uqair Protocol
The 1920s and 30s saw the collapse of the pearl fishery and with it Kuwait's economy. This is attributed to the invention of the artificial cultivation of pearls. Kuwait became on of the world's poorest countries and became even more dependent on Britain for protection.
In response to the various Bedouin raids, the British High Commissioner in Baghdad, Sir Percy Cox, imposted the Uqair Protocol of 1922 which defined the boundaries between Iraq and Nejd; and between Kuwait and Nejd.
On April 1, 1923, Shaikh Ahmad al-Sabah wrote the British Political Agent in Kuwait, Major John More, "I still do not know what the border between Iraq and Kuwait is, I shall be glad if you will kindly give me this information." More, upon learning that al-Sabah claimed the outer green line of the Anglo-Ottoman Convention (April 4), would relay the information to Sir Cox.
On April 19, Six Cox stated that the British government recognized the outer line of the Convention as the border between Iraq and Kuwait. This decision limited Iraq's access to the Persian Gulf at 58km of mostly marshy and swampy coastline. As this would make it difficult for Iraq to become a naval power (the territory did not include any deepwater harbours), the Iraqi King Faisal I did not agree to the plan, however, as his country was under British rule, he had little say in the matter. Iraq and Kuwait would formally ratify the border in August. The border was re-recognized in 1927.
By early 1961, the British had 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.
The boundary with Saudi Arabia was set in 1922 with the Treaty of Uqair following the Battle of Jahrah. This treaty 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. In December 1969, 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.
Kuwait's northern border with Iraq dates from an agreement made 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, under the pretense 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."
In the 1980s Kuwait, fearful of Iran after the Iranian Revolution supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. Kuwait sent large sums of money to Iraq. As a consequence of this Iran attacked Kuwait's oil tankers, and Kuwait was forced to seek protection from the United States, which sent warships to the gulf.
On August 2, 1990, Iraq nevertheless invaded Kuwait but was forced out 7 months later by a United Nations coalition led by the United States in its Gulf War. Following several weeks of aerial bombardment, a US-led UN coalition began a ground assault on February 23, 1991 that completely liberated Kuwait in four days. After 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 Security Council Resolutions 773 and 883.
Kuwait has spent more than $five billion dollars to repair oil infrastructure damaged during 1990-1991 (see Kuwaiti oil fires).