Kuwait, officially the State of Kuwait i/kuːˈweɪt/ (Arabic: دولة الكويت Dawlat al-Kuwayt ), is an Arab country in Western Asia. Situated in the northeastern edge of the Arabian peninsula at the tip of the Persian Gulf, it shares borders with Iraq to the north and Saudi Arabia to the south. The name “Kuwait” is the diminutive of Arabic كوت kūt, meaning “fortress”. The country covers an area of 17,820 square kilometers (6,880 square miles) and has a population of 2.6 million as of 2012.
Historically, the region was the site of the kingdom of Characene, of which the capital city, Charax Spasinu, was a major Parthian port for trade between Mesopotamia and India. By the 19th century, Kuwait came under the influence of the Ottoman Empire. After World War I, it emerged as an independent sheikhdom under the protection of the British Empire. Kuwait’s large oil fields were discovered in the late 1930s.
After Kuwait gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1961, the state’s oil industry saw unprecedented economic growth. In 1990, Kuwait was invaded and annexed by neighboring Iraq. The seven month-long Iraqi occupation came to an end after direct military intervention by United States-led forces. Around 773 Kuwaiti oil wells were set ablaze by the retreating Iraqi army, resulting in a major environmental and economic catastrophe. Kuwait’s infrastructure was badly damaged during the war and had to be rebuilt. Twelve years later, Kuwait saw another massive foreign military presence as it served as a springboard for the U.S.-led campaign in 2003 to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government. Kuwait City serves as the country’s political and economic capital. Kuwait is often described as the most liberal country in the region. The country has the world’s fifth largest oil reserves and petroleum products now account for 87% of export revenues and 75% of government income. Kuwait is the eighth richest country in the world per capita. Kuwait is classified as a high income economy by the World Bank and is designated as a major non-NATO ally of the United States.