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Inspired by the similar questions about The Cold War and World War 2,

As worldbuilders the most common question asked is; What if? These what if question usually focus on factors leading up to, about and after a major event, such as a war. Sadly these changes are rarely depicted in a realistic way: it's either not discussed why the change would happen, or even worse, attributed to a superweapon or deus ex machina.

One of the more recent wars was the Iraq War. Because it was a fairly complex and controversial war, with a huge number of social and economic factors in it, there is no realistic way to create a miracle guaranteeing a certain different outcome. Therefore I list a number of disclaimers, in order to make this question fit into the topic of this site.

  1. It doesn't have to guarantee an American loss, but it has to significantly increase its probability.
  2. The change should have a realistic justification (so no secret Atomic bomb)
  3. A loss doesn't necessarily mean that America is taken over (which Iraq didn't have a realistic chance of achieving). If the Iraq power continues to control its area of the middle east, with the United States unwilling to continue fighting in a far off land, or with a peace treaty with the opposition at least slightly favorable to Iraq, it would count as a victory.
  4. The change has to be a single event, or a collection of compact, tightly coiled events occurring in a short period of time. It has to happen during, or slightly before the war. The war should, at least for the first few battles appear similar to what happened in real life, even if at different dates or different order, events and participants should remain the same.

With these factors in mind, what single change can I apply to history in order to significantly increase the chances of Iraq winning the Iraq War

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe if there was no oil in Iraq... $\endgroup$ – vanillagod Apr 25 '16 at 5:06
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    $\begingroup$ A cabal assassinates Saddam before the US invades. The new government gives US & UN inspectors full & unlimited access to the country, and stops providing support to jihadist groups. Of course this is not exactly 'winning', but it's the only way Iraq could have come out ahead. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 25 '16 at 5:54
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    $\begingroup$ I read your question as referring to the US invasion of Iraq, not the 90's gulf war? Some of the answers seem to refer to the latter. Where does your alternate history split from the actual? $\endgroup$ – Guran Apr 25 '16 at 6:12
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe the Bush administration wasn't blatantly lying about Iraq possessing WMDs, and they used them to defend themselves. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Apr 25 '16 at 7:04
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    $\begingroup$ @AmiralPatate in fact the US administration wasn't lying at all, but the amount available to Iraq was far smaller than thought (and/or the bulk had been evacuated to other countries in secret). $\endgroup$ – jwenting Aug 1 '17 at 12:33
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At the time I did read some analyst comment that speculated that, had Saddam Hussein really pushed South and attacked Saudi Arabia before the deployment of coalition troops, he would have controlled so much of the oil supply that he would have been able to get a negotiation. In these he would not have been allowed to keep all that he got (too much power in one hand) but could have got some important concessions (the territories in dispute with Kuwait, reparations due to Kuwait alleged illegal extraction of Iraq oil, etc.)

Otherwise, the other has that Saddam tried to make himself the champion of oppressed Palestinians against Israel.

This variation has that Israel government, instead of promising the Palestinians a fair settlement after the war1 and holding tight without answering the attack by Scuds, Israel government orders the expulsion of Palestinians as suspected pro-Iraq sympathisers, and taking part actively in the operations. Then Israeli planes fight Jordan's or Syria planes when crossing over their air space, and tension escalates.

Soon the USA finds that no country (except Turkey) can support them because it would make those countries practically allied with Israel, and that would be politically too costly unless they were directly attacked by Iraq.

1 I bet they are still laughing at how naive the Palestinians were to believe that.

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  • $\begingroup$ A friend of mine was about number 30,000 into Saudi during the buildup, and he says the troops referred to themselves as "speed-bumps". $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Apr 26 '16 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ The addition of Israel actively in combat against Iraq would be so overwhelmingly bad for them that it would more than outweigh the loss of US allies. Remember, those allies provided base access and flyover rights, but very little actual combat power. They let the USA carry 99% of the coalition. Adding Israel as an active combatant would have been a disaster to Iraq. $\endgroup$ – JBiggs Nov 16 '16 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ @JBiggs I seem to recall there being British and French armored divisions in Desert Storm, as well as naval and air forces. The US was the majority player, but certainly not 99%. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Dodds Aug 1 '17 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewDodds the non-local allies were 99%. JBiggs is talking about the smittering of Saudi, Egyptian, and Jordanian forces that took part in the campaign. They were really just token contributions, though in some cases their work as translators probably came in handy. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Aug 1 '17 at 12:35
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewDodds the argument being made here is that Israel coming in on the US side would immediately lose other "allies". The British and French are NOT the "allies" that the USA would lose. British and French at that time would have had no problem fighting alongside Israel. $\endgroup$ – JBiggs Aug 2 '17 at 13:04
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The most probable event(s) I can think of would be the Iraqis getting lucky in their Scud strikes on Israel. Instead of a few civilian casualties, let's say a day care center was hit, followed closely by the destruction of a synagogue during a service, in both cases with massive loss of life resulting.

In this case, Israeli public opinion might well have forced the Israeli government to start attacking Iraq, potentially sucking most of the neighboring countries into the mess. (This, in fact, is exactly what the US worried about.) The resulting massive conflict would engulf much of the mid-East, and the US would, at the least, have been forced to divert forces from the Iraqi effort.

Of course, in the worst case (from the Iraqi point of view) the Israelis might have been so threatened that they would have resorted to their (publicly unacknowledged) nuclear option, and they probably would have been sure that Iraq would have received some reward for starting the whole mess.

Another possibility would be a decision by the US not to trust GPS, which was untried at the time. With no GPS for navigation, the Coalition would have had to try a frontal assault, and would have played into Hussein's strengths (such as they were). In this case, there is every reason to think that the US losses would have been much higher, although I'm doubtful that the end result would have changed much. Conceivably, US opinion would have been affected to the point of accepting a negotiated peace which would have left Hussein in power. I'm not convinced that this would have happened, but it's an interesting possibility.

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    $\begingroup$ The addition of Israel as an active combatant against Iraq would be SO overwhelmingly bad for Iraq that it would vastly outweigh any gain to Iraq from the loss of US Arab allies. Remember, those allies were basically sitting it out, letting the USA use their air space, and offering only token support. Israel would have almost doubled the total destructive power of the air campaign. Saddam was actually VERY stupid to try to draw Israel in. $\endgroup$ – JBiggs Nov 16 '16 at 17:52
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Imagine a major terrorist attack in the West, with a clear money trail pointing to the Saudi and Kuwaiti political establishment. Keep the unrest of the Kurdish PKK in Turkey and the mischief by Iranian proxy groups at historical levels.

The US/the West might decide that Saddam isn't much worse than Marcos or Zia-ul-Haq. And "our champion" for a secular, democratic Middle East against those terrorists. At least, he might be excused for going after those fanatics.

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Which Iraq war? The one with Iran? They one where Iraq invaded Kuwait to avoid repaying loans from the Iran/Iraq war? Or the one where Bush jr. was to afraid of Iran? Assuming you are talking about the Kuwait conflict, had Saddam been able to goad Israel into preemptively attacking the Scuds and causing civilian casualties on TV, the alliances would have been severely weakened. If Saddam then opened the door to neutral observers who found evidence of WMD's at the site of the Israeli attack that could be traced to or associated with Israel and/or USA, then the the war would have been over. The Arab countries would have united against the west, and the UN would have been severely weakened and might have collapsed (it would certainly have been reformed). The US would have lost most or all its influence in the region and the security of Israel would have been in question. On the good side, the Muslim extremists would have never have got the finance or the support that made them a power for the next twenty five years so there would never have been a 9/11 or a second/third(?) Iraq war or an Isis today.

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Had the US exceeded its stated war objective - the liberation of Kuwait - and undertaken to "liberate Iraq" or "save the Shia" (both of which Papa Bush faced strong political pressure to do) we might have seen the events of the second Iraq War and occupation play out a decade ahead of schedule.

For the US to lose, it has to face a war of attrition with its resulting political costs. Occupying Iraq creates the best opportunity for that to happen. It's not a very exciting "What If?" however, because we already witnessed the 2003-2008 version.

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