The First Gulf War ended following the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by US-led coalition forces on 28 February 1991 after just 6 weeks of fighting. The coalition expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait and pursued them deep into Iraqi territory. On 15 March 1991, the authoritarian ruler of Kuwait was formally restored to power in an independent and sovereign Kuwait and the withdrawal of coalition forces gained pace. With the war over, the task of upholding the peace and preventing a renewed conflict was taken up by the UN Security Council in Resolution 687 of 3 April 1991.1 Among its provisions, the resolution set the framework for a formal ceasefire and established the mechanisms for monitoring implementation, including the deployment of an unarmed UN observation mission, the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM). When the Iraqi administration accepted the terms of Resolution 687, the Security Council formally established UNIKOM with Resolution 689 on 9 April.2 The first of UNIKOM’s authorised strength of 300 personnel arrived on 13 April and the mission was fully operational by 6 May.3
The key provision for preventing a conflict relapse was the demarcation of a demilitarised zone (DMZ) running 10km into Iraqi territory and 3km into Kuwait along the entire 200km border. Upon its arrival, UNIKOM was tasked with monitoring the withdrawal of all forces (including coalition) from the DMZ. Once this was complete, the UN observers took up positions across the DMZ to monitor the area. Following a series of incursions into the DMZ by Iraqi forces, the mandate of UNIKOM was expanded in 1993 to allow it to prevent such incursions by Security Council Resolution 806 and the mission was reinforced with over 3,000 troops.4 This increased strength allowed UNIKOM to conduct a much wider range of patrols, establish more checkpoints, and offer protection to its isolated observers. This greatly stabilised the situation and created a window for the ongoing work of the Iraq-Kuwait Boundary Commission to complete its work – which it did in February 1994. UNIKOM successfully navigated these challenges along with tense periods in November 1993 and October 1994 (when Iraq massed troops on the edge of the DMZ), preventing renewed war during the entire period it was operational.5 Following the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, UNIKOM operations were suspended, and the mission was concluded entirely in October 2003.