Sick Gulf War veterans will mark the 20th anniversary of the end of the conflict with a protest march on Monday.
The former military personnel will demand proper testing, treatment and compensation for those suffering from Gulf War Syndrome following service in the campaign to drive Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.
It is 20 years tomorrow since then US president George Bush senior declared a ceasefire as Allied forces advanced to within 150 miles of Baghdad.
The six-week Gulf War started on January 16, 1991, after the expiry of a United Nations Security Council deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, which it invaded in August 1990 in a dispute over oil. Saddam famously declared that “the mother of all battles has begun” as the US and UK-led coalition of 34 nations launched a massive air offensive that involved more than 100,000 sorties and the dropping of 88,500 tons of bombs.
Iraq responded by firing missiles into Israel but Jerusalem followed the request of the US not to respond, helping to keep Arab states in the coalition. The air campaign was followed by a ground war which started on February 23 and lasted only five days as exhausted, starving and demoralised Iraqi soldiers surrendered in their tens of thousands.
Coalition troops met generally light resistance before expelling Saddam’s forces from Kuwait, but the Iraqis set fire to nearly 700 oil wells before they left. The Allies’ advance into Iraq was faster than US generals had expected but Mr Bush decided not to seek the overthrow of the Iraqi regime and brought the war to an end on February 28.
Saddam remained a thorn in the side of the international community over the next decade before being toppled in 2003 by Mr Bush’s son in what some regarded as unfinished family business. A total of 47 UK troops died in the war and thousands more have experienced ill-health in the years since the conflict.
Campaigners say 9,700 of the 53,000 British veterans of the conflict have suffered from Gulf War Syndrome, a cocktail of health problems that typically includes chronic headaches, cognitive difficulties, depression, unexplained fatigue, rashes and breathing problems.
A landmark study for the US Congress concluded in 2009 that the troops’ sickness was caused by them being given nerve gas pills and exposed to pesticides during the war.
However, the Ministry of Defence’s official position remains that Gulf War Syndrome is a useful “umbrella term” but comprises too many different symptoms to be characterised as a syndrome in medical terms. The protest march on Monday, which starts at the Union Jack Club in London and continues to Westminster, aims to highlight their plight.