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Land and Resources
Virtually the entire country, except for some small coastal areas, is barren desert, with a flat to rolling terrain. Soils are practically nonexistent. The average annual temperature is 25° C (77° F), and the average annual rainfall is 127 mm (5 in) or less, most of which falls in the cooler season, between October and March. During the dry season temperatures frequently exceed 46.1° C (115° F). The country obtains its water supply from the desalination of seawater. Petroleum and natural gas are Kuwait's only natural resources.
The native people of Kuwait are Arabs. Many minority groups are present,
however, including Arabs from other countries, Indians, Pakistanis, and
Iranians. The population (1993) was 1,698,077. The overall density was
about 95 persons per sq km (246 per sq mi). The city of Kuwait (population,
1985, 44,335) is the seat of government and chief port. Islam is the predominant
religion, the large majority being Sunni Muslims. The official language
is Arabic, but English is widely spoken.
Education is free and is divided into preprimary, primary, intermediate, and secondary levels. School enrollment totaled annually about 360,000 students in some 660 schools in the early 1990s. Kuwait University, chartered in 1962 and opened in 1966, had an annual enrollment of about 17,000 students. More than 2000 Kuwaitis study abroad annually.
Kuwait is one of the world's richest countries in terms of yearly gross
national product per capita ($13,400 in the late 1980s). Much of this wealth,
however, is concentrated in the hands of the ruling Sabah family. The country
is almost entirely dependent on petroleum production for its domestic development
and foreign exchange.
Crude-oil production was about 445.1 million barrels annually in the late 1980s, of which about 52 percent was exported. Major customers include Japan, Italy, Singapore, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Pakistan, and the United States. As petroleum revenues increased during the 1970s, imports also jumped, and the government undertook major building and industrial development plans. By 1994 crude-oil production was estimated at about 653.1 million barrels per year. Manufactures include cement and other building materials, petrochemicals, plastic products, and boats.
The official currency unit is the Kuwaiti dinar, composed of 1000 fils (0.2970 dinar equals U.S.$1; 1994). After occupying the country, Iraq abolished the Kuwaiti dinar and made the Iraqi dinar the sole legal currency in Kuwait.
Kuwait has no railroads, but a highway system is being developed; the road network totals about 3870 km (about 2405 mi). An international airport is located near Kuwait City. Telephone and telegraph systems are maintained by the state; about 310,000 telephones, 1,100,000 radios, and 800,000 television sets are in use.
Under a 1962 constitution, Kuwait's government is headed by a hereditary emir (prince), whose power is exercised through a prime minister and council of ministers appointed by the emir. Legislative power is vested in an assembly, made up of 50 people elected to four-year terms by literate native-born adult males; the emir frequently used his power under the constitution to dissolve the assembly and rule by decree. During Iraq's occupation of Kuwait (August 1990-February 1991), the emirate was abolished, and a government in exile was established in neighboring Saudi Arabia. The Kuwaiti government returned in March 1991.
The emirate developed around the city of Kuwait, which was settled early
in the 18th century. Kuwait was nominally under Ottoman Turkish rule until
1899, when the reigning emir asked for, and obtained, British protection.
In 1914 Great Britain reaffirmed its protective role and formally recognized
the independence of the state. Subsequently, Wahhabis from the Saudi Arabian
province of Najd attacked Kuwait. The British aided the emirate, and peace
was restored in 1921 by a treaty establishing the Kuwait-Najd boundary;
a neutral zone was created in 1922. Petroleum was discovered in Kuwait
in 1938. Operating under a concession, the Kuwait Oil Company, owned jointly
by the Gulf Oil Corporation of the United States and the British Petroleum
Company, began full-scale exploitation of the reserves in 1946. Under the
provisions of a 1951 agreement, the emir shared equally in the company's
British protection of Kuwait ended on June 19, 1961. The state became a member of the Arab League that year and joined the United Nations (UN) in 1963. In January 1963 the first constitution of the country was proclaimed and the first national assembly was elected. Three years later, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia reached an agreement on their common border, eliminating the neutral zone. The accord also provided for the sharing of that area's oil resources.
Kuwait has long been a supporter of the Arab confrontation of Israel, particularly after the war of 1967, and has granted the so-called front-line nations large sums to defray the costs of their continuing struggle. This was made easier once the series of oil-price increases that were initiated in 1973 began to create higher revenues. In 1975, moreover, the government gained control of the remaining 40 percent share of the Kuwait Oil Company that British Petroleum and Gulf Oil had still owned, thus fully nationalizing the industry. During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, Kuwait aided Iraq; in 1987 the U.S. and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) each sent naval escorts to protect Kuwaiti shipping from Iranian attack.
After the Iran-Iraq war ended, Iraq revived a long-standing territorial dispute with Kuwait and claimed that overproduction of petroleum by Kuwait was injuring Iraq's economy. Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990 and rapidly took over the country; they reportedly committed many human rights abuses. The invasion was condemned by the UN Security Council and the Arab League, which continued to support the exiled emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, as Kuwait's legitimate ruler.
During the Persian Gulf War, a coalition led by the U.S. succeeded in liberating Kuwait by late February 1991. Problems facing Kuwait in the postwar period included inadequate supplies of food, fresh water, and electricity; hundreds of oil-well fires set by the retreating Iraqis; environmental damage from burning wells and deliberately spilled oil; demands by resistance leaders who had remained in Kuwait for a greater share of political power; and enmity between Kuwaitis and Palestinian residents, some of whom were accused of collaborating with Iraqi occupation forces. By early 1992 the fires had been put out, most Palestinians had fled the country, and Kuwait had paid $16.5 billion to the U.S. as its share of allied war expenses. Groups opposed to the emir but divided on other political, economic, and religious issues won a parliamentary majority in the elections of October 1992. In 1993, during a visit by former U.S. President George Bush, Kuwaiti officials arrested 14 Iraqis and Kuwaitis accused of plotting to assassinate the former president. In June 1994, 13 of the men were found guilty and 1 was acquitted; six of the 13 were sentenced to death and the remainder were sentenced to prison terms.
In October 1994 Iraqi troops assembled along the Kuwaiti border. The UN condemned the deployment and adopted a resolution demanding Iraq's immediate withdrawal. On November 10, 1994 Iraqi President Saddam Hussein officially recognized Kuwait's sovereignty and its borders.
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