2003 invasion of Iraq

"Invasion of Iraq" redirects here. For events after 1 May 2003, see Iraq War. For the Mongol Invasion of Iraq, see Siege of Baghdad (1258). For the British Invasion of Iraq during World War II, see Anglo-Iraqi War. For other invasions of Iraq throughout history, see Military history of Iraq.
2003 invasion of Iraq
Part of the Iraq War

U.S. Army M1A1 Abrams tanks and their crews pose for a photo in front of the "Hands of Victory" monument at Baghdad's Ceremony Square in November 2003.
Date20 March – 1 May 2003
(1 month, 1 week and 4 days)

Coalition victory;


Coalition forces:
 United States
 United Kingdom

With military support from:
Iraqi National Congress[2][3][4]
Iraqi Kurdistan Peshmerga


Ansar al-Islam
Commanders and leaders

George W. Bush
Tommy Franks
Tony Blair
Brian Burridge

Australia John Howard
Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski
Poland Leszek Miller

Massoud Barzani
Babakir Zebari
Jalal Talabani
Kosrat Rasul Ali
Ahmad Chalabi
Saddam Hussein
Qusay Hussein
Uday Hussein
Abid Hamid Mahmud
Ali Hassan al-Majid
Barzan Ibrahim
Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri
Ra'ad al-Hamdani
Abu Abdullah Warya Salih Shafi (Ansar-ul-Islam commander)

380,000 troops[7]

United States: 192,000 troops[8]
 United Kingdom: 45,000
 Australia: 2,000
 Poland: 194[9]
Iraqi Kurdistan Peshmerga: 70,000[10]

Iraqi National Congress: 620

Iraqi Armed Forces: 375,000
 Special Iraqi Republican Guard: 12,000
 Iraqi Republican Guard: 70,000–75,000
 Fedayeen Saddam: 30,000
Iraqi reserves: 650,000[11][12]

600–800 Ansar al-Islam
Casualties and losses

172 killed (139 U.S., 33 UK)[13]
551 wounded (U.S.)[14]
24+ killed[15]

196+ killed

Estimated Iraqi combatant fatalities: 30,000 (figure attributed to General Tommy Franks)

7,600–11,000 (4,895–6,370 observed and reported) (Project on Defense Alternatives study)[16][17]

13,500–45,000 (extrapolated from fatality rates in units serving around Baghdad)[18]

Estimated Iraqi civilian fatalities:
7,269 (Iraq Body Count)[19]

3,200–4,300 (Project on Defense Alternatives study)[16]

The 2003 invasion of Iraq lasted from 20 March to 1 May 2003 and signaled the start of the Iraq War, which was dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom by the United States (prior to 19 March, the mission in Iraq was called Operation Enduring Freedom, a carryover from the War in Afghanistan).[20] The invasion consisted of 21 days of major combat operations, in which a combined force of troops from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland invaded Iraq and deposed the Ba'athist government of Saddam Hussein. The invasion phase consisted primarily of a conventionally fought war which concluded with the capture of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad by American forces.

160,000 troops were sent by the Coalition into Iraq, during the initial invasion phase, which lasted from 19 March to 9 April 2003. About 130,000 were sent from the USA alone, with about 28,000 British Soldiers, Australia (2,000), and Poland (194). 36 other countries were involved in its aftermath. In preparation for the invasion, 100,000 U.S. troops were assembled in Kuwait by 18 February.[21] The coalition forces also received support from Kurdish irregulars in Iraqi Kurdistan.

According to U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the coalition mission was "to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people."[22] General Wesley Clark, the former Supreme NATO Allied Commander and Joint Chiefs of Staff Director of Strategy and Policy, describes in his 2003 book, Winning Modern Wars, his conversation with a military officer in the Pentagon shortly after the 11 September attacks regarding a plan to attack seven Middle Eastern countries in five years: "As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan."[23] Others place a much greater emphasis on the impact of the 11 September 2001 attacks, and the role this played in changing U.S. strategic calculations, and the rise of the freedom agenda.[24][25] According to Blair, the trigger was Iraq's failure to take a "final opportunity" to disarm itself of alleged nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that U.S. and British officials called an immediate and intolerable threat to world peace.[26]

In a January 2003 CBS poll, 64% of Americans had approved of military action against Iraq; however, 63% wanted Bush to find a diplomatic solution rather than go to war, and 62% believed the threat of terrorism directed against the U.S. would increase due to war.[27] The invasion of Iraq was strongly opposed by some long-standing U.S. allies, including the governments of France, Germany, and New Zealand.[28][29][30] Their leaders argued that there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that invading the country was not justified in the context of UNMOVIC's 12 February 2003 report. On 15 February 2003, a month before the invasion, there were worldwide protests against the Iraq War, including a rally of three million people in Rome, which is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest ever anti-war rally.[31] According to the French academic Dominique Reynié, between 3 January and 12 April 2003, 36 million people across the globe took part in almost 3,000 protests against the Iraq war.[32]

The invasion was preceded by an air strike on the Presidential Palace in Baghdad on 20 March 2003. The following day, coalition forces launched an incursion into Basra Province from their massing point close to the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. While the special forces launched an amphibious assault from the Persian Gulf to secure Basra and the surrounding petroleum fields, the main invasion army moved into southern Iraq, occupying the region and engaging in the Battle of Nasiriyah on 23 March. Massive air strikes across the country and against Iraqi command and control threw the defending army into chaos and prevented an effective resistance. On 26 March, the 173rd Airborne Brigade was airdropped near the northern city of Kirkuk, where they joined forces with Kurdish rebels and fought several actions against the Iraqi army to secure the northern part of the country.

The main body of coalition forces continued their drive into the heart of Iraq and met with little resistance. Most of the Iraqi military was quickly defeated and Baghdad was occupied on 9 April. Other operations occurred against pockets of the Iraqi army, including the capture and occupation of Kirkuk on 10 April, and the attack and capture of Tikrit on 15 April. Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and the central leadership went into hiding as the coalition forces completed the occupation of the country. On 1 May, an end of major combat operations was declared, ending the invasion period and beginning the military occupation period.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq was the most recent armed conflict between standing national armies causing at least 1,000 battle deaths,[33] until the outbreak of the War in Donbass between Ukraine and Russia in 2014-15.[34]

Prelude to the invasion

Gen. Anthony C. Zinni briefs reporters at The Pentagon following Operation Desert Fox, 21 December 1998

Hostilities of the 1991 Gulf War were suspended on 28 February 1991, with a cease-fire negotiated between the UN Coalition and Iraq.[35] The U.S. and its allies tried to keep Saddam in check with military actions such as Operation Southern Watch, which was conducted by Joint Task Force Southwest Asia (JTF-SWA) with the mission of monitoring and controlling airspace south of the 32nd Parallel (extended to the 33rd Parallel in 1996) as well as using economic sanctions. It was revealed that a biological weapons (BW) program in Iraq had begun in the early 1980s with help from the U.S. and Europe in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) of 1972. Details of the BW program—along with a chemical weapons program—surfaced in the wake of the Gulf War (1990–91) following investigations conducted by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) which had been charged with the post-war disarmament of Saddam's Iraq. The investigation concluded that there was no evidence the program had continued after the war. The U.S. and its allies then maintained a policy of "containment" towards Iraq. This policy involved numerous economic sanctions by the UN Security Council; the enforcement of Iraqi no-fly zones declared by the U.S. and the UK to protect the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan and Shias in the south from aerial attacks by the Iraqi government; and ongoing inspections. Iraqi military helicopters and planes regularly contested the no-fly zones.[36][37]

A UN weapons inspector in Iraq, 2002.

In October 1998, removing the Hussein regime became official U.S. foreign policy with enactment of the Iraq Liberation Act. Enacted following the expulsion of UN weapons inspectors the preceding August (after some had been accused of spying for the U.S.), the act provided $97 million for Iraqi "democratic opposition organizations" to "establish a program to support a transition to democracy in Iraq."[38] This legislation contrasted with the terms set out in United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, which focused on weapons and weapons programs and made no mention of regime change.[39] One month after the passage of the Iraq Liberation Act, the U.S. and UK launched a bombardment campaign of Iraq called Operation Desert Fox. The campaign's express rationale was to hamper Saddam Hussein's government's ability to produce chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, but U.S. intelligence personnel also hoped it would help weaken Hussein's grip on power.[40]

Two US F-16 Falcons prepare to depart Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia for a patrol as part of Operation Southern Watch, 2000.

With the election of George W. Bush as president in 2000, the U.S. moved towards a more aggressive policy toward Iraq. The Republican Party's campaign platform in the 2000 election called for "full implementation" of the Iraq Liberation Act as "a starting point" in a plan to "remove" Hussein.[41] After leaving the George W. Bush administration, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said that an attack on Iraq had been planned since Bush's inauguration, and that the first United States National Security Council meeting involved discussion of an invasion. O'Neill later backtracked, saying that these discussions were part of a continuation of foreign policy first put into place by the Clinton administration.[42]

Despite the Bush administration's stated interest in liberating Iraq, little formal movement towards an invasion occurred until the 11 September 2001 attacks. For example, the administration prepared Operation Desert Badger to respond aggressively if any Air Force pilot was shot down while flying over Iraq, but this did not happen. Rumsfeld dismissed National Security Agency (NSA) intercept data available by midday of the 11th that pointed to al-Qaeda's culpability, and by mid-afternoon ordered the Pentagon to prepare plans for attacking Iraq.[43] According to aides who were with him in the National Military Command Center on that day, Rumsfeld asked for: "best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit Saddam Hussein at same time. Not only Osama bin Laden."[44] A memo written by Rumsfeld in November 2001 considers an Iraq war.[45] The rationale for invading Iraq as a response to 9/11 has been widely questioned, as there was no cooperation between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.[46]

Shortly after 11 September 2001 (on 20 September), Bush addressed a joint session of Congress (simulcast live to the world), and announced his new "War on Terror". This announcement was accompanied by the doctrine of "pre-emptive" military action, later termed the Bush Doctrine. Allegations of a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda were made by some U.S. Government officials who asserted that a highly secretive relationship existed between Saddam and the radical Islamist militant organization al-Qaeda from 1992 to 2003, specifically through a series of meetings reportedly involving the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS). Some Bush advisers favored an immediate invasion of Iraq, while others advocated building an international coalition and obtaining United Nations authorization. Bush eventually decided to seek UN authorization, while still reserving the option of invading without it.[47]

Preparations for war

George W. Bush addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations on 12 September 2002 to outline the complaints of the United States government against the Iraqi government.
From left: French President Jacques Chirac, US President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Italian Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi at the G8 Summit at Evian, France. Chirac was against the invasion, the other three leaders were in favor of it.

While there had been some earlier talk of action against Iraq, the Bush administration waited until September 2002 to call for action, with White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card saying, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."[48] Bush began formally making his case to the international community for an invasion of Iraq in his 12 September 2002 address to the UN Security Council.[49]

Key U.S. allies in NATO, such as the United Kingdom, agreed with the U.S. actions, while France and Germany were critical of plans to invade Iraq, arguing instead for continued diplomacy and weapons inspections. After considerable debate, the UN Security Council adopted a compromise resolution, UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which authorized the resumption of weapons inspections and promised "serious consequences" for non-compliance. Security Council members France and Russia made clear that they did not consider these consequences to include the use of force to overthrow the Iraqi government.[50] Both the U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, and the UK ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, publicly confirmed this reading of the resolution, assuring that Resolution 1441 provided no "automaticity" or "hidden triggers" for an invasion without further consultation of the Security Council.[51]

Resolution 1441 gave Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations" and set up inspections by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Hussein accepted the resolution on 13 November and inspectors returned to Iraq under the direction of UNMOVIC chairman Hans Blix and IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei. As of February 2003, the IAEA "found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq"; the IAEA concluded that certain items which could have been used in nuclear enrichment centrifuges, such as aluminum tubes, were in fact intended for other uses.[52] UNMOVIC "did not find evidence of the continuation or resumption of programs of weapons of mass destruction" or significant quantities of proscribed items. UNMOVIC did supervise the destruction of a small number of empty chemical rocket warheads, 50 liters of mustard gas that had been declared by Iraq and sealed by UNSCOM in 1998, and laboratory quantities of a mustard gas precursor, along with about 50 Al-Samoud missiles of a design that Iraq stated did not exceed the permitted 150 km range, but which had travelled up to 183 km in tests. Shortly before the invasion, UNMOVIC stated that it would take "months" to verify Iraqi compliance with resolution 1441.[53][54][55]

In October 2002, the U.S. Congress passed a "Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq". The resolution authorized the President to "use any means necessary" against Iraq. Americans polled in January 2003 widely favored further diplomacy over an invasion. Later that year, however, Americans began to agree with Bush's plan. The U.S. government engaged in an elaborate domestic public relations campaign to market the war to its citizens. Americans overwhelmingly believed Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction: 85% said so, even though the inspectors had not uncovered those weapons. Of those who thought Iraq had weapons sequestered somewhere, about half responded that said weapons would not be found in combat. By February 2003, 64% of Americans supported taking military action to remove Hussein from power.[27]

Anti war protest in London, 2002

The Central Intelligence Agency's Special Activities Division (SAD) teams, consisting of the paramilitary operations officers and 10th Special Forces Group soldiers, were the first U.S. forces to enter Iraq, in July 2002, before the main invasion. Once on the ground, they prepared for the subsequent arrival of U.S. Army Special Forces to organize the Kurdish Peshmerga. This joint team (called the Northern Iraq Liaison Element (NILE))[56] combined to defeat Ansar al-Islam, a group with ties to al-Qaeda, in Iraqi Kurdistan. This battle was for control of the territory that was occupied by Ansar al-Islam and took place before the invasion. It was carried out by Paramilitary Operations Officers from SAD and the Army's 10th Special Forces Group. This battle resulted in the defeat of Ansar and the capture of a chemical weapons facility at Sargat.[56] Sargat was the only facility of its type discovered in the Iraq war.[57][58]

SAD teams also conducted missions behind enemy lines to identify leadership targets. These missions led to the initial air strikes against Hussein and his generals. Although the strike against Hussein was unsuccessful in killing him, it effectively ended his ability to command and control his forces. Strikes against Iraq's generals were more successful and significantly degraded the Iraqi command's ability to react to, and maneuver against, the U.S.-led invasion force.[56][59] SAD operations officers were also successful in convincing key Iraqi Army officers into surrendering their units once the fighting started.[57]

NATO member Turkey refused to allow the U.S. forces across its territory into northern Iraq. Therefore, joint SAD and Army Special forces teams and the Pershmerga constituted the entire Northern force against the Iraqi army. They managed to keep the northern divisions in place rather than allowing them to aid their colleagues against the U.S.-led coalition force coming from the south.[60] Four of these CIA officers were awarded the Intelligence Star for their actions.[57][58]

60,000–200,000 protesters of various ages demonstrated in San Francisco, 15 February 2003

In the 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush said "we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs".[61] On 5 February 2003, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the United Nations General Assembly, continuing U.S. efforts to gain UN authorization for an invasion. His presentation to the UN Security Council, which contained a computer generated image of a "mobile biological weapons laboratory". However, this information was based on claims of Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed "Curveball", an Iraqi emigrant living in Germany who later admitted that his claims had been false.

Powell also presented evidence alleging Iraq had ties to al-Qaeda. As a follow-up to Powell’s presentation, the United States, United Kingdom, Poland, Italy, Australia, Denmark, Japan, and Spain proposed a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, but NATO members like Canada, France, and Germany, together with Russia, strongly urged continued diplomacy. Facing a losing vote as well as a likely veto from France and Russia, the US, UK, Poland, Spain, Denmark, Italy, Japan, and Australia eventually withdrew their resolution.[62][63]

Opposition to the invasion coalesced in the worldwide 15 February 2003 anti-war protest that attracted between six and ten million people in more than 800 cities, the largest such protest in human history according to the Guinness Book of World Records.[31]

U.S. President George W. Bush meets with his top advisors on 19 March 2003 just before the invasion

In March 2003, the United States, United Kingdom, Poland, Australia, Spain, Denmark, and Italy began preparing for the invasion of Iraq, with a host of public relations and military moves. In his 17 March 2003 address to the nation, Bush demanded that Hussein and his two sons, Uday and Qusay, surrender and leave Iraq, giving them a 48-hour deadline.[64] But the U.S. began the bombing of Iraq on the day before the deadline expired. On 18 March 2003, the bombing of Iraq by the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Poland, Spain, Italy and Denmark began. Unlike the first Gulf War, this war had no explicit UN authorisation.

The UK House of Commons held a debate on going to war on 18 March 2003 where the government motion was approved 412 to 149.[65] The vote was a key moment in the history of the Blair administration, as the number of government MPs who rebelled against the vote was the greatest since the repeal of the Corn Laws. Three government ministers resigned in protest at the war, John Denham, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the then Leader of the House of Commons Robin Cook. In a passionate speech to the House of Commons after his resignation, he said, "What has come to trouble me is the suspicion that if the 'hanging chads' of Florida had gone the other way and Al Gore had been elected, we would not now be about to commit British troops to action in Iraq." During the debate, it was stated that the Attorney General had advised that the war was legal under previous UN Resolutions.

Attempts to avoid war

In December 2002, a representative of the head of Iraqi Intelligence, the General Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, contacted former Central Intelligence Agency Counterterrorism Department head Vincent Cannistraro stating that Hussein "knew there was a campaign to link him to 11 September and prove he had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)." Cannistraro further added that "the Iraqis were prepared to satisfy these concerns. I reported the conversation to senior levels of the state department and I was told to stand aside and they would handle it." Cannistraro stated that the offers made were all "killed" by the George W. Bush administration because they allowed Hussein to remain in power, an outcome viewed as unacceptable. It has been suggested that Saddam Hussein was prepared to go into exile if allowed to keep $1 billion USD.[66]

Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's national security advisor, Osama El-Baz, sent a message to the U.S. State Department that the Iraqis wanted to discuss the accusations that the country had weapons of mass destruction and ties with Al-Qaeda. Iraq also attempted to reach the U.S. through the Syrian, French, German, and Russian intelligence services.

In January 2003, Lebanese-American Imad Hage met with Michael Maloof of the U.S. Department of Defense's Office of Special Plans. Hage, a resident of Beirut, had been recruited by the department to assist in the War on Terror. He reported that Mohammed Nassif, a close aide to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, had expressed frustrations about the difficulties of Syria contacting the United States, and had attempted to use him as an intermediary. Maloof arranged for Hage to meet with civilian Richard Perle, then head of the Defense Policy Board.[67][68]

In January 2003, Hage met with the chief of Iraqi intelligence's foreign operations, Hassan al-Obeidi. Obeidi told Hage that Baghdad did not understand why they were being targeted, and that they had no WMDs. He then made the offer for Washington to send in 2000 FBI agents to confirm this. He additionally offered petroleum concessions, but stopped short of having Hussein give up power, instead suggesting that elections could be held in two years. Later, Obeidi suggested that Hage travel to Baghdad for talks; he accepted.[67]

Later that month, Hage met with General Habbush and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. He was offered top priority to U.S. firms in oil and mining rights, UN-supervised elections, U.S. inspections (with up to 5,000 inspectors), to have al-Qaeda agent Abdul Rahman Yasin (in Iraqi custody since 1994) handed over as a sign of good faith, and to give "full support for any U.S. plan" in the Arab-Israeli peace process. They also wished to meet with high-ranking U.S. officials. On 19 February, Hage faxed Maloof his report of the trip. Maloof reports having brought the proposal to Jamie Duran. The Pentagon denies that either Wolfowitz or Rumsfeld, Duran's bosses, were aware of the plan.[67]

On 21 February, Maloof informed Duran in an email that Richard Perle wished to meet with Hage and the Iraqis if the Pentagon would clear it. Duran responded "Mike, working this. Keep this close hold." On 7 March, Perle met with Hage in Knightsbridge, and stated that he wanted to pursue the matter further with people in Washington (both have acknowledged the meeting). A few days later, he informed Hage that Washington refused to let him meet with Habbush to discuss the offer (Hage stated that Perle's response was "that the consensus in Washington was it was a no-go"). Perle told The Times, "The message was 'Tell them that we will see them in Baghdad.' "

Casus belli and rationale

George Bush, speaking in October 2002, said that "The stated policy of the United States is regime change. ... However, if Hussein were to meet all the conditions of the United Nations, the conditions that I have described very clearly in terms that everybody can understand, that in itself will signal the regime has changed".[69] Citing reports from certain intelligence sources, Bush stated on 6 March 2003 that he believed that Hussein was not complying with UN Resolution 1441.[70]

In September 2002, Tony Blair stated, in an answer to a parliamentary question, that "Regime change in Iraq would be a wonderful thing. That is not the purpose of our action; our purpose is to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction..."[71] In November of that year, Blair further stated that, "So far as our objective, it is disarmament, not régime change – that is our objective. Now I happen to believe the regime of Saddam is a very brutal and repressive regime, I think it does enormous damage to the Iraqi people ... so I have got no doubt Saddam is very bad for Iraq, but on the other hand I have got no doubt either that the purpose of our challenge from the United Nations is disarmament of weapons of mass destruction, it is not regime change."[72]

At a press conference on 31 January 2003, Bush again reiterated that the single trigger for the invasion would be Iraq’s failure to disarm, "Saddam Hussein must understand that if he does not disarm, for the sake of peace, we, along with others, will go disarm Saddam Hussein."[73] As late as 25 February 2003, it was still the official line that the only cause of invasion would be a failure to disarm. As Blair made clear in a statement to the House of Commons, "I detest his regime. But even now he can save it by complying with the UN's demand. Even now, we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully."[74]

Additional justifications used at various times included Iraqi violation of UN resolutions, the Iraqi government's repression of its citizens, and Iraqi violations of the 1991 cease-fire.[22]

The main allegations were: that Hussein possessed or was attempting to produce weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam Hussein had used in places such as Halabja,[75][76] possessed, and made efforts to acquire, particularly considering two previous attacks on Baghdad nuclear weapons production facilities by both Iran and Israel which were alleged to have postponed weapons development progress; and, further, that he had ties to terrorists, specifically al-Qaeda.

While it never made an explicit connection between Iraq and the 11 September attacks, the George W. Bush administration repeatedly insinuated a link, thereby creating a false impression for the U.S. public. Grand jury testimony from the 1993 World Trade Center attack trials cited numerous direct linkages from the bombers to Baghdad and Department 13 of the Iraqi Intelligence Service in that initial attack marking the second anniversary to vindicate the surrender of Iraqi armed forces in Operation Desert Storm. For example, The Washington Post has noted that,

While not explicitly declaring Iraqi culpability in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, administration officials did, at various times, imply a link. In late 2001, Cheney said it was "pretty well confirmed" that attack mastermind Mohamed Atta had met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official. Later, Cheney called Iraq the "geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."[77]

Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland, observed in March 2003 that "The administration has succeeded in creating a sense that there is some connection [between 11 Sept. and Saddam Hussein]". This was following a New York Times/CBS poll that showed 45% of Americans believing Saddam Hussein was "personally involved" in the 11 September atrocities. As the Christian Science Monitor observed at the time, while "Sources knowledgeable about U.S. intelligence say there is no evidence that Hussein played a role in the 11 Sept. attacks, nor that he has been or is currently aiding Al Qaeda. ... the White House appears to be encouraging this false impression, as it seeks to maintain American support for a possible war against Iraq and demonstrate seriousness of purpose to Hussein's regime." The CSM went on to report that, while polling data collected "right after 11 Sept. 2001" showed that only 3 percent mentioned Iraq or Saddam Hussein, by January 2003 attitudes "had been transformed" with a Knight Ridder poll showing that 44% of Americans believed "most" or "some" of the 11 September hijackers were Iraqi citizens.[78]

According to General Tommy Franks, the objectives of the invasion were, "First, end the regime of Saddam Hussein. Second, to identify, isolate and eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Third, to search for, to capture and to drive out terrorists from that country. Fourth, to collect such intelligence as we can related to terrorist networks. Fifth, to collect such intelligence as we can related to the global network of illicit weapons of mass destruction. Sixth, to end sanctions and to immediately deliver humanitarian support to the displaced and to many needy Iraqi citizens. Seventh, to secure Iraq’s oil fields and resources, which belong to the Iraqi people. And last, to help the Iraqi people create conditions for a transition to a representative self-government."[79]

The BBC has also noted that, while President Bush "never directly accused the former Iraqi leader of having a hand in the attacks on New York and Washington", he "repeatedly associated the two in keynote addresses delivered since 11 September", adding that "Senior members of his administration have similarly conflated the two." For instance, the BBC report quotes Colin Powell in February 2003, stating that "We've learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases. And we know that after September 11, Saddam Hussein's regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America." The same BBC report also noted the results of a recent opinion poll, which suggested that "70% of Americans believe the Iraqi leader was personally involved in the attacks."[80]

Also in September 2003, the Boston Globe reported that "Vice President Dick Cheney, anxious to defend the White House foreign policy amid ongoing violence in Iraq, stunned intelligence analysts and even members of his own administration this week by failing to dismiss a widely discredited claim: that Saddam Hussein might have played a role in the 11 Sept. attacks."[81] A year later, presidential candidate John Kerry alleged that Cheney was continuing "to intentionally mislead the American public by drawing a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 in an attempt to make the invasion of Iraq part of the global war on terror."[82]

Throughout 2002, the Bush administration insisted that removing Hussein from power to restore international peace and security was a major goal. The principal stated justifications for this policy of "regime change" were that Iraq's continuing production of weapons of mass destruction and known ties to terrorist organizations, as well as Iraq's continued violations of UN Security Council resolutions, amounted to a threat to the U.S. and the world community.

Colin Powell holding a model vial of anthrax while giving presentation to the United Nations Security Council on 5 February 2003 (still photograph captured from video clip, The White House/CNN)
Wikisource has original text related to this article:

The Bush administration's overall rationale for the invasion of Iraq was presented in detail by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations Security Council on 5 February 2003. In summary, he stated,

We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction; he's determined to make more. Given Saddam Hussein's history of aggression ... given what we know of his terrorist associations and given his determination to exact revenge on those who oppose him, should we take the risk that he will not some day use these weapons at a time and the place and in the manner of his choosing at a time when the world is in a much weaker position to respond? The United States will not and cannot run that risk to the American people. Leaving Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction for a few more months or years is not an option, not in a post–September 11 world.[83]

Since the invasion, the U.S. and British government statements concerning Iraqi weapons programs and links to terrorist organizations have been discredited. While the debate of whether Iraq intended to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons in the future remains open, no WMDs have been found in Iraq since the invasion despite comprehensive inspections lasting more than 18 months.[84] In Cairo, on 24 February 2001, Colin Powell had predicted as much, saying, "[Hussein] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours."[85] Similarly, assertions of operational links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda have largely been discredited by the intelligence community, and Secretary Powell himself later admitted he had no proof.[86]

In September 2002, the Bush administration said attempts by Iraq to acquire thousands of high-strength aluminum tubes pointed to a clandestine program to make enriched uranium for nuclear bombs. Powell, in his address to the UN Security Council just before the war, referred to the aluminum tubes. A report released by the Institute for Science and International Security in 2002, however, reported that it was highly unlikely that the tubes could be used to enrich uranium. Powell later admitted he had presented an inaccurate case to the United Nations on Iraqi weapons, based on sourcing that was wrong and in some cases "deliberately misleading."[87][88][89]

The Bush administration asserted that the Hussein government had sought to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger.[90] On 7 March 2003, the U.S. submitted intelligence documents as evidence to the International Atomic Energy Agency. These documents were dismissed by the IAEA as forgeries, with the concurrence in that judgment of outside experts. At the time, a US official stated that the evidence was submitted to the IAEA without knowledge of its provenance and characterized any mistakes as "more likely due to incompetence not malice".

Iraqi drones

In October 2002, a few days before the US Senate vote on the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution, about 75 senators were told in closed session that the Iraqi government had the means of delivering biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction by unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) drones that could be launched from ships off the US' Atlantic coast to attack US eastern seaboard cities. Colin Powell suggested in his presentation to the United Nations that UAVs were transported out of Iraq and could be launched against the United States.

In fact, Iraq had no offensive UAV fleet or any capability of putting UAVs on ships.[91] Iraq's UAV fleet consisted of less than a handful of outdated Czech training drones.[92] At the time, there was a vigorous dispute within the intelligence community whether the CIA's conclusions about Iraq's UAV fleet were accurate. The US Air Force agency denied outright that Iraq possessed any offensive UAV capability.[93]

Human rights

As evidence supporting U.S. and British charges about Iraqi WMDs and links to terrorism weakened, some supporters of the invasion have increasingly shifted their justification to the human rights violations of the Hussein government.[94] Leading human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have argued, however, that they believe human rights concerns were never a central justification for the invasion, nor do they believe that military intervention was justifiable on humanitarian grounds, most significantly because "the killing in Iraq at the time was not of the exceptional nature that would justify such intervention."[95]

Legality of invasion

President George Bush, surrounded by leaders of the House and Senate, announces the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq, 2 October 2002.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 was passed by congress with Republicans voting 98% in favor in the Senate, and 97% in favor in the House. Democrats supported the joint resolution 58% and 39% in the Senate and House respectively.[96][97] The resolution asserts the authorization by the Constitution of the United States and the Congress for the President to fight anti-United States terrorism. Citing the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, the resolution reiterated that it should be the policy of the United States to remove the Saddam Hussein regime and promote a democratic replacement.

The resolution "supported" and "encouraged" diplomatic efforts by President George W. Bush to "strictly enforce through the U.N. Security Council all relevant Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq" and "obtain prompt and decisive action by the Security Council to ensure that Iraq abandons its strategy of delay, evasion, and noncompliance and promptly and strictly complies with all relevant Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq." The resolution authorized President Bush to use the Armed Forces of the United States "as he determines to be necessary and appropriate" to "defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq."

The legality of the invasion of Iraq has been challenged since its inception on a number of fronts, and several prominent supporters of the invasion in all the invading nations have publicly and privately cast doubt on its legality. It has been argued that the invasion was fully legal because authorization was implied by the United Nations Security Council.[98][99] International legal experts, including the International Commission of Jurists, a group of 31 leading Canadian law professors, and the U.S.-based Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, have denounced both of these rationales.[100][101][102]

On Thursday 20 November 2003, an article published in the Guardian alleged that Richard Perle, a senior member of the administration's Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, conceded that the invasion was illegal but still justified.[103][104]

The United Nations Security Council has passed nearly 60 resolutions on Iraq and Kuwait since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The most relevant to this issue is Resolution 678, passed on 29 November 1990. It authorizes "member states co-operating with the Government of Kuwait ... to use all necessary means" to (1) implement Security Council Resolution 660 and other resolutions calling for the end of Iraq's occupation of Kuwait and withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwaiti territory and (2) "restore international peace and security in the area." Resolution 678 has not been rescinded or nullified by succeeding resolutions and Iraq was not alleged after 1991 to invade Kuwait or to threaten do so.

Resolution 1441 was most prominent during the run up to the war and formed the main backdrop for Secretary of State Colin Powell's address to the Security Council one month before the invasion.[105] According to an independent commission of inquiry set up by the government of the Netherlands, UN resolution 1441 "cannot reasonably be interpreted (as the Dutch government did) as authorising individual member states to use military force to compel Iraq to comply with the Security Council's resolutions." Accordingly, the Dutch commission concluded that the 2003 invasion violated international law.[106]

President George W. Bush addresses the nation from the Oval Office, 19 March 2003, to announce the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. "The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder." The Senate committee found that many of the administration's pre-war statements about Iraqi WMD were not supported by the underlying intelligence

At the same time, Bush Administration officials advanced a parallel legal argument using the earlier resolutions, which authorized force in response to Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Under this reasoning, by failing to disarm and submit to weapons inspections, Iraq was in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 660 and 678, and the U.S. could legally compel Iraq's compliance through military means.

Critics and proponents of the legal rationale based on the U.N. resolutions argue that the legal right to determine how to enforce its resolutions lies with the Security Council alone, not with individual nations.

In February 2006, Luis Moreno Ocampo, the lead prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, reported that he had received 240 separate communications regarding the legality of the war, many of which concerned British participation in the invasion.[107] In a letter addressed to the complainants, Mr. Moreno Ocampo explained that he could only consider issues related to conduct during the war and not to its underlying legality as a possible crime of aggression because no provision had yet been adopted which "defines the crime and sets out the conditions under which the Court may exercise jurisdiction with respect to it." In a March 2007 interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Moreno Ocampo encouraged Iraq to sign up with the court so that it could bring cases related to alleged war crimes.[108]

United States Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich held a press conference on the evening of 24 April 2007, revealing US House Resolution 333 and the three articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney. He charged Cheney with manipulating the evidence of Iraq's weapons program, deceiving the nation about Iraq's connection to al-Qaeda, and threatening aggression against Iran in violation of the United Nations Charter.

Military aspects

The United Kingdom military operation was named Operation Telic.

Multilateral support

In November 2002, President George W. Bush, visiting Europe for a NATO summit, declared that, "should Iraqi President Saddam Hussein choose not to disarm, the United States will lead a coalition of the willing to disarm him."[109]

Tony Blair (left) and George W. Bush at Camp David in March 2003, during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq

Thereafter, the Bush administration briefly used the term Coalition of the Willing to refer to the countries who supported, militarily or verbally, the military action in Iraq and subsequent military presence in post-invasion Iraq since 2003. The original list prepared in March 2003 included 49 members.[110] Of those 49, only six besides the U.S. contributed troops to the invasion force (the United Kingdom, Australia, Poland, Spain, Portugal, and Denmark), and 33 provided some number of troops to support the occupation after the invasion was complete. Six members have no military, meaning that of the 49, 3 withheld troops completely.

Invasion force

Approximately 148,000 soldiers from the United States, 45,000 British soldiers, 2,000 Australian soldiers, 1300 Spanish soldiers and 194 Polish soldiers from the special forces unit GROM were sent to Kuwait for the invasion.[9] The invasion force was also supported by Iraqi Kurdish militia troops, estimated to number upwards of 70,000.[10] In the latter stages of the invasion, 620 troops of the Iraqi National Congress opposition group were deployed to southern Iraq.[4]

A U.S. Central Command, Combined Forces Air Component Commander report, indicated that, as of 30 April 2003, there were a total of 466,985 U.S. personnel deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom. This included USAF, 54,955; USAF Reserve, 2,084; Air National Guard, 7,207; USMC, 74,405; USMC Reserve, 9,501; USN, 61,296 (681 are members of the U.S. Coast Guard); USN Reserve, 2,056; and U.S. Army, 233,342; U.S. Army Reserve, 10,683; and Army National Guard, 8,866.[111]

Plans for opening a second front in the north were severely hampered when Turkey refused the use of its territory for such purposes.[112] In response to Turkey's decision, the United States dropped several thousand paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade into northern Iraq, a number significantly less than the 15,000-strong 4th Infantry Division that the U.S. originally planned to use for opening the northern front.[113]


Kurdish areas in Northern Iraq

CIA Special Activities Division (SAD) Paramilitary teams entered Iraq in July 2002 before the 2003 invasion. Once on the ground they prepared for the subsequent arrival of US military forces. SAD teams then combined with U.S. Army Special Forces to organize the Kurdish Peshmerga. This joint team combined to defeat Ansar al-Islam, an ally of Al Qaida, in a battle in the northeast corner of Iraq. The U.S. side was carried out by Paramilitary Officers from SAD and the Army's 10th Special Forces Group.[56][57][58]

SAD teams also conducted high-risk special reconnaissance missions behind Iraqi lines to identify senior leadership targets. These missions led to the initial strikes against Saddam Hussein and his key generals. Although the initial strikes against Hussein were unsuccessful in killing the dictator or his generals, they were successful in effectively ending the ability to command and control Iraqi forces. Other strikes against key generals were successful and significantly degraded the command's ability to react to and maneuver against the U.S.-led invasion force coming from the south.[56][58]

SAD operations officers were also successful in convincing key Iraqi army officers to surrender their units once the fighting started and/or not to oppose the invasion force.[57] NATO member Turkey refused to allow its territory to be used for the invasion. As a result, the SAD/SOG and U.S. Army Special Forces joint teams and the Kurdish Peshmerga constituted the entire northern force against government forces during the invasion. Their efforts kept the 5th Corps of the Iraqi army in place to defend against the Kurds rather than moving to contest the coalition force.

According to General Tommy Franks, April Fool, an American officer working undercover as a diplomat, was approached by an Iraqi intelligence agent. April Fool then sold to the Iraqi false "top secret" invasion plans provided by Franks' team. This decoy deception successfully misled the Iraqi military into deploying major forces in Northern and Western Iraq in anticipation of attacks by way of Turkey or Jordan, which never took place. This greatly reduced the defensive capacity in the rest of Iraq and significantly facilitated the actual attacks via Kuwait and the Persian Gulf in the southeast.

Defending force

The number of personnel in the Iraqi military prior to the war was uncertain, but it was believed to have been poorly equipped.[114][115][116] The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated the Iraqi armed forces to number 538,000 (Iraqi Army 375,000, Iraqi Navy 2,000, Iraqi Air Force 20,000 and air defense 17,000), the paramilitary Fedayeen Saddam 44,000, Republican Guard 80,000 and reserves 650,000.[117]

Another estimate numbers the Army and Republican Guard at between 280,000 to 350,000 and 50,000 to 80,000, respectively,[118] and the paramilitary between 20,000 and 40,000.[119] There were an estimated thirteen infantry divisions, ten mechanized and armored divisions, as well as some special forces units. The Iraqi Air Force and Navy played a negligible role in the conflict.

During the invasion, foreign volunteers traveled to Iraq from Syria and took part in the fighting, usually under the command of the Fedayeen Saddam. It is not known for certain how many foreign fighters fought in Iraq in 2003, however, intelligence officers of the U.S. First Marine Division estimated that 50% of all Iraqi combatants in central Iraq were foreigners.[120][121]

In addition, the Kurdish Islamist militant group Ansar al-Islam controlled a small section of northern Iraq in an area outside of Saddam Hussein's control. Ansar al-Islam had been fighting against secular Kurdish forces since 2001. At the time of the invasion they fielded approximately 600 to 800 fighters.[122] Ansar al-Islam was led by the Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who would later become an important leader in the Iraqi insurgency. Ansar al-Islam was driven out of Iraq in late March by a joint American-Kurdish force during Operation Viking Hammer.


US invasion: 20–28 March 2003
US invasion: 29 March – 7 April 2003
Routes and major battles fought by invasion force and afterwards
Carrier Air Wing Two (CVW-2) mission briefing aboard Constellation (CV-64), 21 March 2003.

Since the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. and UK had been engaged in low-level attacks on Iraqi air defenses which targeted them while enforcing Iraqi no-fly zones.[36][37] These zones, and the attacks to enforce them, were described as illegal by the former UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and the French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine. Other countries, notably Russia and China, also condemned the zones as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.[123][124][125] In mid-2002, the U.S. began more carefully selecting targets in the southern part of the country to disrupt the military command structure in Iraq. A change in enforcement tactics was acknowledged at the time, but it was not made public that this was part of a plan known as Operation Southern Focus.

The amount of ordnance dropped on Iraqi positions by Coalition aircraft in 2001 and 2002 was less than in 1999 and 2000 which was during the Clinton administration.[126] This information has been used to attempt to refute the theory that the Bush administration had already decided to go to war against Iraq before coming to office and that the bombing during 2001 and 2002 was laying the groundwork for the eventual invasion in 2003. However, information obtained by the UK Liberal Democrats showed that the UK dropped twice as many bombs on Iraq in the second half of 2002 as they did during the whole of 2001. The tonnage of UK bombs dropped increased from 0 in March 2002 and 0.3 in April 2002 to between 7 and 14 tons per month in May–August, reaching a pre-war peak of 54.6 tons in September – before Congress' 11 October authorization of the invasion.

The 5 September attacks included a 100+ aircraft attack on the main air defense site in western Iraq. According to an editorial in New Statesman this was "Located at the furthest extreme of the southern no-fly zone, far away from the areas that needed to be patrolled to prevent attacks on the Shias, it was destroyed not because it was a threat to the patrols, but to allow allied special forces operating from Jordan to enter Iraq undetected."[127]

Tommy Franks, who commanded the invasion of Iraq, has since admitted that the bombing was designed to "degrade" Iraqi air defences in the same way as the air attacks that began the 1991 Gulf War. These "spikes of activity" were, in the words of then British Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, designed to 'put pressure on the Iraqi regime' or, as The Times reported, to "provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war". In this respect, as provocations designed to start a war, leaked British Foreign Office legal advice concluded that such attacks were illegal under international law.[128][129]

Another attempt at provoking the war was mentioned in a leaked memo from a meeting between George W. Bush and Tony Blair on 31 January 2003 at which Bush allegedly told Blair that "The US was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours. If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."[130] On 17 March 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave the country, along with his sons Uday and Qusay, or face war.

Opening salvo: the Dora Farms strike

On the early morning of 19 March 2003, U.S. forces abandoned the plan for initial, non-nuclear decapitation strikes against 55 top Iraqi officials, in light of reports that Saddam Hussein was visiting his sons, Uday and Qusay, at Dora Farms, within the al-Dora farming community on the outskirts of Baghdad.[131] At approximately 05:30 UTC, two F-117 Nighthawks from the 8th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron[132] dropped four enhanced, satellite-guided 2,000-pound GBU-27 'Bunker Busters' on the compound. Complementing the aerial bombardment were nearly 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from at least four ships, including the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Cowpens (CG-63), credited with the first to strike,[133] Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG-75), and two submarines in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf.[134]

One bomb missed the compound entirely and the other three missed their target, landing on the other side of the wall of the palace compound.[135] Saddam Hussein was not present, nor were any members of the Iraqi leadership.[131][136] The attack killed one civilian and injured fourteen others, including four men, nine women and one child.[137][138] Later investigation revealed that Saddam Hussein had not visited the farm since 1995.[134]

Opening attack

On 20 March 2003 at approximately 02:30 UTC or about 90 minutes after the lapse of the 48-hour deadline, at 05:33 local time, explosions were heard in Baghdad. Special operations commandos from the CIA's Special Activities Division from the Northern Iraq Liaison Element infiltrated throughout Iraq and called in the early air strikes.[56] At 03:15 UTC, or 10:15 pm EST, George W. Bush announced that he had ordered an "attack of opportunity" against targets in Iraq.[139] When this word was given, the troops on standby crossed the border into Iraq.

Wingtip vortices are visible trailing from an F-15E as it disengages from midair refueling with a KC-10 during Operation Iraqi Freedom

Before the invasion, many observers had expected a lengthy campaign of aerial bombing before any ground action, taking as examples the 1991 Persian Gulf War or the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. In practice, U.S. plans envisioned simultaneous air and ground assaults to decapitate the Iraqi forces quickly (see Shock and Awe), attempting to bypass Iraqi military units and cities in most cases. The assumption was that superior mobility and coordination of Coalition forces would allow them to attack the heart of the Iraqi command structure and destroy it in a short time, and that this would minimize civilian deaths and damage to infrastructure. It was expected that the elimination of the leadership would lead to the collapse of the Iraqi Forces and the government, and that much of the population would support the invaders once the government had been weakened. Occupation of cities and attacks on peripheral military units were viewed as undesirable distractions.

Following Turkey's decision to deny any official use of its territory, the Coalition was forced to modify the planned simultaneous attack from north and south.[140] Special Operations forces from the CIA and U.S. Army managed to build and lead the Kurdish Peshmerga into an effective force and assault for the North. The primary bases for the invasion were in Kuwait and other Persian Gulf nations. One result of this was that one of the divisions intended for the invasion was forced to relocate and was unable to take part in the invasion until well into the war. Many observers felt that the Coalition devoted sufficient numbers of troops to the invasion, but too many were withdrawn after it ended, and that the failure to occupy cities put them at a major disadvantage in achieving security and order throughout the country when local support failed to meet expectations.

NASA Landsat 7 image of Baghdad, 2 April 2003. The dark streaks are smoke from oil well fires set in an attempt to hinder attacking air forces

The invasion was swift, leading to the collapse of the Iraqi government and the military of Iraq in about three weeks. The oil infrastructure of Iraq was rapidly seized and secured with limited damage in that time. Securing the oil infrastructure was considered of great importance. In the Gulf War, while retreating from Kuwait, the Iraqi army had set many oil wells on fire in an attempt to disguise troop movements and to distract Coalition forces. Before the 2003 invasion, Iraqi forces had mined some 400 oil wells around Basra and the Al-Faw peninsula with explosives. Coalition troops launched an air and amphibious assault on the Al-Faw peninsula during the closing hours of 19 March to secure the oil fields there; the amphibious assault was supported by warships of the Royal Navy, Polish Navy, and Royal Australian Navy.

In the meantime, Royal Air Force Tornados from 9 and 617 Squadrons attacked the radar defence systems protecting Baghdad, but lost a Tornado on 22 March along with the pilot and navigator (Flight Lieutenant Kevin Main and Flight Lieutenant Dave Williams), shot down by an American Patriot missile as they returned to their airbase in Kuwait.[141] On 1 April, an F-14 from USS Kitty Hawk crashed in southern Iraq reportedly due to engine failure,[142] and a S-3B Viking plunged off the deck of the USS Constellation after a malfunction and an AV-8B Harrier jump jet went into the Gulf while it was trying to land on the USS Nassau.[143]

British 3 Commando Brigade, with the United States Marine Corps' 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Polish Special Forces unit GROM attached, attacked the port of Umm Qasr. There they met with heavy resistance by Iraqi troops. A total of 14 Coalition troops and 30–40 Iraqi troops were killed, and 450 Iraqis taken prisoner. The British Army's 16 Air Assault Brigade also secured the oil fields in southern Iraq in places like Rumaila while the Polish commandos captured offshore oil platforms near the port, preventing their destruction. Despite the rapid advance of the invasion forces, some 44 oil wells were destroyed and set ablaze by Iraqi explosives or by incidental fire. However, the wells were quickly capped and the fires put out, preventing the ecological damage and loss of oil production capacity that had occurred at the end of the Gulf War.

In keeping with the rapid advance plan, the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division moved westward and then northward through the western desert toward Baghdad, while the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force moved along Highway 1 through the center of the country, and 1 (UK) Armoured Division moved northward through the eastern marshland.

During the first week of the war, Iraqi forces fired a Scud missile at the American Battlefield Update Assessment center in Camp Doha, Kuwait. The missile was intercepted and shot down by a Patriot missile seconds before hitting the complex. Subsequently, two A-10 Warthogs bombed the missile launcher.

Battle of Nasiriyah

Main article: Battle of Nasiriyah

Initially, the U.S. 1st Marine Division fought through the Rumaila oil fields, and moved north to Nasiriyah—a moderate-sized, Shi'ite-dominated city with important strategic significance as a major road junction and its proximity to nearby Talil Airfield. It was also situated near a number of strategically important bridges over the Euphrates River. The city was defended by a mix of regular Iraqi army units, Ba'ath loyalists, and Fedayeen from both Iraq and abroad. The United States Army 3rd Infantry Division defeated Iraqi forces entrenched in and around the airfield and bypassed the city to the west.

A U.S. amphibious fighting vehicle destroyed near Nasiriyah

On 23 March, a convoy from the 3rd Infantry Division, including the female American soldiers Jessica Lynch, Shoshana Johnson, and Lori Piestewa, was ambushed after taking a wrong turn into the city. Eleven U.S. soldiers were killed, and seven, including Lynch and Piestewa, were captured.[144] Piestewa died of wounds shortly after capture, while the remaining five prisoners of war were later rescued. Piestewa, who was from Tuba City, Arizona, and an enrolled member of the Hopi Tribe, was believed to have been the first Native American woman killed in combat in a foreign war.[145] On the same day, U.S Marines from the Second Marine Division entered Nasiriyah in force, facing heavy resistance as they moved to secure two major bridges in the city. Several Marines were killed during a firefight with Fedayeen in the urban fighting. At the Saddam Canal, another 18 Marines were killed in heavy fighting with Iraqi soldiers. An Air Force A-10 was involved in a case of friendly fire that resulted in the death of six Marines when it accidentally attacked an American amphibious vehicle. Two other vehicles were destroyed when a barrage of RPG and small arms fire killed most of the Marines inside.[146] A Marine from Marine Air Control Group 28 was killed by enemy fire, and two Marine engineers drowned in the Saddam Canal. The bridges were secured and the Second Marine division set up a perimeter around the city.

A U.S. soldier stands guard duty near a burning oil well in the Rumaila oil field, 2 April 2003

On the evening of 24 March, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, which was attached to Regimental Combat Team One (RCT-1), pushed through Nasiriyah and established a perimeter 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) north of the city. Iraqi reinforcements from Kut launched several counterattacks. The Marines managed to repel them using indirect fire and close air support. The last Iraqi attack was beaten off at dawn. The battalion estimated that 200–300 Iraqi soldiers were killed, without a single U.S. casualty. Nasiriyah was declared secure, but attacks by Iraqi Fedayeen continued. These attacks were uncoordinated, and resulted in firefights in which large numbers of Fedayeen were killed. Because of Nasiriyah's strategic position as a road junction, a significant gridlock occurred as U.S. forces moving north converged on the city's surrounding highways.

With the Nasiriyah and Talil Airfields secured, Coalition forces gained an important logistical center in southern Iraq and established FOB/EAF Jalibah, some 10 miles (16 km) outside of Nasiriyah. Additional troops and supplies were soon brought through this forward operating base. The 101st Airborne Division continued its attack north in support of the 3rd Infantry Division.

By 28 March, a severe sand storm slowed the Coalition advance as the 3rd Infantry Division halted its northward drive half way between Najaf and Karbala. As a result of heavy rains that occurred along with the sand storm, orange-colored mud fell on some parts of the invasion force in the area. Air operations by helicopters, poised to bring reinforcements from the 101st Airborne, were blocked for three days. There was particularly heavy fighting in and around the bridge near the town of Kufl.

Battle of Najaf

Destroyed Iraqi T-72 tank on Highway 9 outside Najaf

Another fierce battle was at Najaf, where U.S. airborne and armored units with British air support fought an intense battle with Iraqi Regulars, Republican Guard units, and paramilitary forces. It started with U.S. AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships setting out on a mission to attack Republican Guard armored units; while flying low the Apaches came under heavy anti-aircraft, small arms, and RPG fire which heavily damaged many helicopters and shot one down, frustrating the attack.[147] They attacked again successfully on 26 March, this time after a pre-mission artillery barrage and with support from F/A-18 Hornet jets, with no gunships lost.[148]

The 1st Brigade Combat Team's air defense battery moved in and after heavy fighting with entrenched Iraqi Fedayeen seized a strategic bridge in Najaf, known as "Objective Jenkins". They then came under fierce counterattacks by Iraqi forces and Fedayeen, who failed to dislodge U.S. forces from their positions. After 36 hours of combat at the bridge at Najaf, the Iraqis were defeated, and the key bridge was secured, isolating Najaf from the north.[149]

The 101st Airborne Division on 29 March, supported by a battalion from the 1st Armored Division, attacked Iraqi forces in the southern part of the city, near the Imam Ali Mosque and captured Najaf's airfield.[150] Four Americans were killed by a suicide bomber. On 31 March the 101st made a reconnaissance-in-force into Najaf. On 1 April elements of the 70th Armored Regiment launched a "Thunder Run", an armored thrust through Najaf's city center, and after several days of heavy fighting and with air support were able to defeat the Iraqi forces, securing the city by 4 April.[151][151]

Battle of Basra

British soldiers engage Iraqi Army positions with their 81mm Mortars south of Basra, 26 March 2003.

The Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr was the first British obstacle. A joint Polish-British-American force ran into unexpectedly stiff resistance, and it took several days to clear the Iraqi forces out. Farther north, the British 7 Armoured Brigade ("The Desert Rats"), fought their way into Iraq's second-largest city, Basra, on 6 April, coming under constant attack by regulars and Fedayeen, while 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment cleared the 'old quarter' of the city that was inaccessible to vehicles. Entering Basra was achieved after two weeks of fierce fighting, which included the biggest tank battle by British forces since World War II when the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards destroyed 14 Iraqi tanks on 27 March.

Elements of 1 (UK) Armoured Division began to advance north towards U.S. positions around Al Amarah on 9 April. Pre-existing electrical and water shortages continued throughout the conflict and looting began as Iraqi forces collapsed. While Coalition forces began working with local Iraqi Police to enforce order, a joint team composed of Royal Engineers and the Royal Logistic Corps of the British Army rapidly set up and repaired dockyard facilities to allow humanitarian aid to begin to arrive from ships arriving in the port city of Umm Qasr.

After a rapid initial advance, the first major pause occurred near Karbala. There, U.S. Army elements met resistance from Iraqi troops defending cities and key bridges along the Euphrates River. These forces threatened to interdict supply routes as American forces moved north. Eventually, troops from the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S Army secured the cities of Najaf and Karbala to prevent any Iraqi counterattacks on the 3rd Infantry Division's lines of communication as the division pressed its advance toward Baghdad.

A total of 11 British soldiers were killed, while 395–515 Iraqi soldiers, irregulars, and Fedayeen were killed.

Battle of Karbala

The Karbala Gap was a 20–25-mile wide strip of land with the Euphrates River to the east and Lake Razazah to the west. This strip of land was recognized by Iraqi commanders as a key approach to Baghdad, and was defended by some of the best units of the Iraqi Republican Guard. The Iraqi high command had originally positioned two Republican Guard divisions blocking the Karbala Gap.[152] Here these forces suffered heavy Coalition air attacks. However, the Coalition had since the beginning of March been conducting a strategic deception operation to convince the Iraqis that the U.S. 4th Infantry Division would be mounting a major assault into northern Iraq from Turkey.[153]

This deception plan worked, and on 2 April Saddam's son Qusay Hussein declared that the American invasion from the south was a feint and ordered troops to be re-deployed from the Karbala front to the north of Baghdad. Lt. Gen. Raad al-Hamdani, who was in command of the Karbala region, protested this and argued that unless reinforcements were rushed to the Karbala gap immediately to prevent a breach, U.S. forces would reach Baghdad within 48 hours, but his suggestions fell on deaf ears. American troops rushed through the gap and reached the Euphrates River at the town of Musayib. At Musayib, U.S. troops crossed the Euphrates in boats and seized the vital al-Kaed bridge across the Euphrates after Iraqi demolitions teams had failed to destroy it in time.

The 10th Armored Brigade from the Medina Division and the 22nd Armored Brigade from the Nebuchadnezzar Division, supported by artillery, launched night attacks against the U.S. bridgehead at Musayib. The attack was repulsed using tank fire and massed artillery rockets, destroying or disabling every Iraqi tank in the assault. The next morning, Coalition aircraft and helicopters fired on the Republican Guard units, destroying many more vehicles as well as communications infrastructure. The Republican Guard units broke under the massed firepower and lost any sense of command and cohesion and the U.S. forces poured through the gap and onward to Baghdad.

Special operations

The northern front during March and April 2003

The 2nd Battalion of the U.S. 5th Special Forces Group, United States Army Special Forces (Green Berets) conducted reconnaissance in the cities of Basra, Karbala and various other locations.[154]

In the North, the 10th Special Forces Group (10th SFG) and CIA paramilitary officers from their Special Activities Division had the mission of aiding the Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, de facto rulers of Iraqi Kurdistan since 1991, and employing them against the 13 Iraqi Divisions located near Kirkuk and Mosul.[155][156] Turkey had officially prohibited any Coalition troops from using their bases or airspace, so lead elements of the 10th SFG had to make a detour infiltration; their flight was supposed to take four hours but instead took ten.[156]

Hours after the first of such flights, Turkey did allow the use of its air space and the rest of the 10th SFG infiltrated in. The preliminary mission was to destroy the base of the Kurdish terrorist group Ansar al-Islam, believed to be linked to al-Qaeda. Concurrent and follow-on missions involved attacking and fixing Iraqi forces in the north, thus preventing their deployment to the southern front and the main effort of the invasion.[156]

Marines from the 15th MEU during a mission in Iraq, 23 March 2003

On 26 March 2003, the 173rd Airborne Brigade augmented the invasion's northern front by parachuting into northern Iraq onto Bashur Airfield, controlled at the time by elements of 10th SFG and Kurdish peshmerga. The fall of Kirkuk on 10 April 2003 to the 10th SFG, CIA Paramilitary Teams and Kurdish peshmerga precipitated the 173rd's planned assault, preventing the unit's involvement in combat against Iraqi forces during the invasion.[157]

The successful occupation of Kirkuk came as a result of approximately two weeks of fighting that included the Battle of the Green Line (the unofficial border of the Kurdish autonomous zone) and the subsequent Battle of Kani Domlan Ridge (the ridgeline running northwest to southeast of Kirkuk), the latter fought exclusively by 3rd Battalion, 10th SFG and Kurdish peshmerga against the Iraqi I Corps. The 173rd Brigade would eventually take responsibility for Kirkuk days later, becoming involved in the counterinsurgency fight and remain there until redeploying a year later.[157]

Further reinforcing operations in Northern Iraq, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), serving as Landing Force Sixth Fleet, deployed in April to Erbil and subsequently Mosul via Marine KC-130 flights.[158] The 26 MEU (SOC) maintained security of the Mosul airfield and surrounding area until relief by the 101st Airborne Division.[159]

After Sargat was taken, Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 10th SFG and CIA paramilitary officers along with their Kurdish allies pushed south towards Tikrit and the surrounding towns of Northern Iraq.[160] Previously, during the Battle of the Green Line, Bravo Company, 3/10 with their Kurdish allies pushed back, destroyed, or routed the 13th Iraqi Infantry Division.[161] The same company took Tikrit. Iraq was the largest deployment of the U.S. Special Forces since Vietnam.[162]

Fall of Baghdad (April 2003)

A T72 Asad Babil abandoned after facing the final U.S. thrust into Baghdad

Three weeks into the invasion, U.S.-led Coalition forces moved into Baghdad. Units of the Iraqi Special Republican Guard led the defence of the city. The rest of the defenders were a mixture of Republican Guard units, regular army units, Fedayeen Saddam, and non-Iraqi Arab volunteers. Initial plans were for Coalition units to surround the city and gradually move in, forcing Iraqi armor and ground units to cluster into a central pocket in the city, and then attack with air and artillery forces.

This plan soon became unnecessary, as an initial engagement of armored units south of the city saw most of the Republican Guard's assets destroyed and routes in the southern outskirts of the city occupied. On 5 April, Task Force 1–64 Armor of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division executed a raid, later called the "Thunder Run", to test remaining Iraqi defenses, with 29 tanks and 14 Bradley armored fighting vehicles advancing to the Baghdad airport. They met heavy resistance, but were successful in reaching the airport. U.S. troops faced heavy fighting in the airport, but eventually secured the airport.

An American M1 Abrams tank destroyed in Baghdad

The next day, another brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division attacked into downtown Baghdad and occupied one of the palaces of Saddam Hussein in fierce fighting. U.S. Marines also faced heavy shelling from Iraqi artillery as they attempted to cross a river bridge, but the river crossing was successful. The Iraqis managed to inflict some casualties on the U.S. forces near the airport from defensive positions but suffered severe casualties from air bombardment. Within hours of the palace seizure and with television coverage of this spreading through Iraq, U.S. forces ordered Iraqi forces within Baghdad to surrender, or the city would face a full-scale assault. Iraqi government officials had either disappeared or had conceded defeat, and on 9 April 2003, Baghdad was formally occupied by Coalition forces. Much of Baghdad remained unsecured however, and fighting continued within the city and its outskirts well into the period of occupation. Saddam had vanished, and his whereabouts were unknown.

photograph of three Marines entering a partially destroyed stone palace with a mural of Arabic script
Marines from 1st Battalion 7th Marines enter a palace during the Battle of Baghdad

On 10 April, a rumor emerged that Saddam Hussein and his top aides were in a mosque complex in the Al Az'Amiyah District of Baghdad. Three companies of Marines were sent to capture him and came under heavy fire from rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and assault rifles. One Marine was killed and 20 were wounded, but neither Saddam or any of his top aides were found. U.S. forces supported by mortars, artillery, and aircraft continued to attack Iraqi forces still loyal to Saddam Hussein and non-Iraqi Arab volunteers. U.S. aircraft flying in support were met with Iraqi anti-aircraft fire. On 12 April, by late afternoon, all fighting had ceased. A total of 34 American soldiers and 2,320 Iraqi fighters were killed.

The April 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Firdos Square in Baghdad shortly after the capture of the city

Many Iraqis celebrated the downfall of Saddam by vandalizing the many portraits and statues of him together with other pieces of his cult of personality. One widely publicized event was the dramatic toppling of a large statue of Saddam in Baghdad's Firdos Square. This attracted considerable media coverage at the time. As the British Daily Mirror reported,

For an oppressed people this final act in the fading daylight, the wrenching down of this ghastly symbol of the regime, is their Berlin Wall moment. Big Moustache has had his day."[163]

As Staff Sergeant Brian Plesich reported in On Point: The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom,

The Marine Corps colonel in the area saw the Saddam statue as a target of opportunity and decided that the statue must come down. Since we were right there, we chimed in with some loudspeaker support to let the Iraqis know what it was we were attempting to do...

Somehow along the way, somebody had gotten the idea to put a bunch of Iraqi kids onto the wrecker that was to pull the statue down. While the wrecker was pulling the statue down, there were Iraqi children crawling all over it. Finally they brought the statue down.[164]

The fall of Baghdad saw the outbreak of regional, sectarian violence throughout the country, as Iraqi tribes and cities began to fight each other over old grudges. The Iraqi cities of Al-Kut and Nasiriyah launched attacks on each other immediately following the fall of Baghdad to establish dominance in the new country, and the U.S.-led Coalition quickly found themselves embroiled in a potential civil war. U.S.-led Coalition forces ordered the cities to cease hostilities immediately, explaining that Baghdad would remain the capital of the new Iraqi government. Nasiriyah responded favorably and quickly backed down; however, Al-Kut placed snipers on the main roadways into town, with orders that invading forces were not to enter the city. After several minor skirmishes, the snipers were removed, but tensions and violence between regional, city, tribal, and familial groups continued.

video of US Marines entering the city
US Marines being welcomed while entering Baghdad in April 2003

U.S. General Tommy Franks assumed control of Iraq as the supreme commander of the coalition occupation forces. Shortly after the sudden collapse of the defense of Baghdad, rumors were circulating in Iraq and elsewhere that there had been a deal struck (a "safqua") wherein the U.S.-led Coalition had bribed key members of the Iraqi military elite and/or the Ba'ath party itself to stand down. In May 2003, General Franks retired, and confirmed in an interview with Defense Week that the U.S.-led Coalition had paid Iraqi military leaders to defect. The extent of the defections and their effect on the war are unclear.

U.S.-led Coalition troops promptly began searching for the key members of Saddam Hussein's government. These individuals were identified by a variety of means, most famously through sets of most-wanted Iraqi playing cards. Later during the military occupation period after the invasion, on 22 July 2003 during a raid by the U.S. 101st Airborne Division and men from Task Force 20, Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay, and one of his grandsons were killed in a massive fire-fight. Saddam Hussein himself was captured on 13 December 2003 by the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division and members of Task Force 121 during Operation Red Dawn.

Other areas

The destroyed remains of Iraqi tanks and other armored vehicles litter an Iraqi military complex west of Diwaniyah

In the north, Kurdish forces opposed to Saddam Hussein had already occupied for years an autonomous area in northern Iraq. With the assistance of U.S. Special Forces and air strikes, they were able to rout the Iraqi units near them and to occupy oil-rich Kirkuk on 10 April.

U.S. special forces had also been involved in the extreme south of Iraq, attempting to occupy key roads to Syria and airbases. In one case two armored platoons were used to convince Iraqi leadership that an entire armored battalion was entrenched in the west of Iraq.

On 15 April, U.S. forces took control of Tikrit, the last major outpost in central Iraq, with an attack led by the Marines' Task Force Tripoli. About a week later the Marines were relieved in place by the Army's 4th Infantry Division.

Coalition aircraft flew over forty-one thousand sorties,[165] of which over nine thousand were tanker sorties.[166]

Bush declares "End of major combat operations" (May 2003)

USS Abraham Lincoln returning to port carrying its Mission Accomplished banner

On 1 May 2003, Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, in a Lockheed S-3 Viking, where he gave a speech announcing the end of major combat operations in the Iraq war. Bush's landing was criticized by opponents as an unnecessarily theatrical and expensive stunt. Clearly visible in the background was a banner stating "Mission Accomplished." The banner, made by White House staff and supplied by request of the United States Navy,[167] was criticized as premature. The White House subsequently released a statement that the sign and Bush's visit referred to the initial invasion of Iraq and disputing the charge of theatrics. The speech itself noted: "We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We are bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous."[168] Post-invasion Iraq was marked by a long and violent conflict between U.S.-led forces and Iraqi insurgents.[169]

Coalition and Allied contingent involvement

Members of the Coalition included Australia: 2,000 invasion, [Poland]: 200 invasion—2,500 peak, Spain: 1,300 invasion United Kingdom: 46,000 invasion, United States: 150,000 to 250,000 invasion. Other members of the coalition were Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, the Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Tonga, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.[170] At least 15 other countries participated covertly.[171]


Australia contributed approximately 2,000 Australian Defence Force personnel, including a special forces task group, three warships and 14 F/A-18 Hornet aircraft.[172] On 16 April 2003, Australian special operations forces captured Al Asad Airbase west of Baghdad. The base would later become the second largest Coalition facility post-invasion.


Polish GROM troops pose immediately after the port's capture during the Battle of Umm Qasr.

The Battle of Umm Qasr was the first military confrontation in the Iraq War, with its objective the capture of the port. Polish GROM troops supported the amphibious assault on Umm Qasrby with the British 3 Commando Brigade of the Royal Marines, and the US 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.[173] After the waterway was de-mined by a Detachment from HM-14 and Naval Special Clearance Team ONE of the U.S. Navy and reopened, Umm Qasr played an important role in the shipment of humanitarian supplies to Iraqi civilians.[174]

United Kingdom

Main article: Operation Telic

British troops, in what was codenamed Operation (or Op) TELIC participated in the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. The 1st Armoured Division was deployed to the Gulf and commanded British forces in the area, securing areas in southern Iraq, including the city of Basra during the invasion. A total of 46,000 troops of all the British services were committed to the operation at its start, including some 5,000 Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary sailors and 4,000 Royal Marines, 26,000 British Army soldiers, and 8,100 Royal Air Force airmen.

Summary of the invasion

Aircraft of the USAF 379th Air Expeditionary Wing and UK and Australian counterparts stationed together at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, in southwest Asia, fly over the desert on 14 April 2003. Aircraft include KC-135 Stratotanker, F-15E Strike Eagle, F-117 Nighthawk, F-16CJ Falcon, British GR-4 Tornado, and Australian F/A-18 Hornet

The U.S.-led Coalition forces toppled the government and captured the key cities of a large nation in only 21 days. The invasion did require a large army build-up like the 1991 Gulf War, but many did not see combat and many were withdrawn after the invasion ended. This proved to be short-sighted, however, due to the requirement for a much larger force to combat the irregular Iraqi forces in the aftermath of the war. General Eric Shinseki, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, recommended "several hundred thousand"[175] troops be used to maintain post-war order, but then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—and especially his deputy, civilian Paul Wolfowitz—strongly disagreed. General Abizaid later said General Shinseki had been right.[176]

The Iraqi army, armed mainly with older Soviet and Eastern European built equipment,[177] was overall ill-equipped in comparison to the American and British forces. Attacks on U.S. supply routes by Fedayeen militiamen were repulsed. The Iraqis' artillery proved largely ineffective, and they were unable to mobilize their air force to attempt a defense. The Iraqi T-72 tanks, the most powerful armored vehicles in the Iraqi army, were both outdated and ill-maintained, and when they were mobilized they were rapidly destroyed, thanks in part to the Coalition air supremacy. The U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Naval Aviation, and British Royal Air Force operated with impunity throughout the country, pinpointing heavily defended resistance targets and destroying them before ground troops arrived. The main battle tanks of the U.S. and UK forces, the U.S. M1 Abrams and British Challenger 2, functioned well in the rapid advance across the country. Despite the many RPG attacks by irregular Iraqi forces, few U.S. and UK tanks were lost, and no tank crew-members were killed by hostile fire, although nearly 40 M1 Abrams were damaged in the attacks.[178] The only tank loss sustained by the British Army was a Challenger 2 of the Queen's Royal Lancers that was hit by another Challenger 2, killing two crew members.

The Iraqi army suffered from poor morale, even amongst the elite Republican Guard. Entire units disbanded into the crowds upon the approach of invading troops, or actually sought out U.S. and UK forces to surrender to. Many Iraqi commanding officers were bribed by the CIA or coerced into surrendering. The leadership of the Iraqi army was incompetent – reports state that Qusay Hussein, charged with the defense of Baghdad, dramatically shifted the positions of the two main divisions protecting Baghdad several times in the days before the arrival of U.S. forces, and as a result the units were confused, and further demoralized when U.S. forces attacked. The invasion force did not see the entire Iraqi military thrown against it; U.S. and UK units had orders to move to and seize objective target points rather than seek to engage Iraqi units. This resulted in most regular Iraqi military units emerging from the war without having been engaged, and fully intact, especially in southern Iraq. It is assumed that most units disintegrated to return to their homes.

According to the declassified Pentagon report, "The largest contributing factor to the complete defeat of Iraq's military forces was the continued interference by Saddam." The report, designed to help U.S. officials understand in hindsight how Saddam and his military commanders prepared for and fought the invasion, paints a picture of an Iraqi government blind to the threat it faced, hampered by Saddam's inept military leadership and deceived by its own propaganda and inability to believe an invasion was imminent without further Iraqi provocation. According to the BBC, the report portrays Saddam Hussein as "chronically out of touch with reality – preoccupied with the prevention of domestic unrest and with the threat posed by Iran."[179]


Death toll

A US Navy (USN) Hospital Corpsman and Iraqi doctor, provide medical aid to an Iraqi civilian, injured during fighting near Umm Qasr, Iraq, in March 2003

Estimates on the number of casualties during the invasion in Iraq vary widely. Estimates on civilian casualties are more variable than those for military personnel. According to Iraq Body Count, a group that relies on press reports, NGO-based reports and official figures to measure civilian casualties, approximately 7,500 civilians were killed during the invasion phase.[180] The Project on Defense Alternatives study estimated that 3,200–4,300 civilians died during the invasion.[16]

War crimes and allegations

Fedayeen Saddam militia, Republican Guard and Iraqi security forces were reported to have executed Iraqi soldiers who tried to surrender on multiple occasions, as well as threatening the families of those who refused to fight.[181][182][183] One such incident was directly observed during the Battle of Debecka Pass.[184]

Many incidents of Fedayeen fighters using human shields were reported from various towns in Iraq.[185] Iraqi Republican Guard units were also reported to be using human shields.[186] Some reports indicate that the Fedayeen used ambulances to deliver messages and transport fighters into combat. On 31 March, Fedayeen in a Red Crescent-marked ambulance attacked American soldiers outside of Nasiriyah, wounding three.[186][187] During the Battle of Basra, British forces of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) reported that on 28 March, Fedayeen forces opened fire on thousands of civilian refugees fleeing the city.[188][189]

After the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company during the Battle of Nasiriyah on 23 March, the bodies of several U.S. soldiers who had been killed in the ambush were shown on Iraqi television. Some of these soldiers had visible gunshot wounds to head, leading to speculation that they had been executed. Except for Sgt. Donald Walters, no evidence has since surfaced to support this scenario and it is generally accepted that the soldiers were killed in action. Five live prisoners of war were also interviewed on the air, a violation of the Third Geneva Convention.[190][191] Sergeant Walters was initially reported to have been killed in the ambush after killing several Fedayeen before running out of ammunition. However, an eyewitness later reported that he had seen Walters being guarded by several Fedayeen in front of a building. Forensics work later found Walters' blood in front of the building and blood spatter suggesting he died from two gunshot wounds to the back at close range. This led the Army to conclude that Walters had been executed after being captured, and he was posthumously awarded the Prisoner of War Medal in 2004.[192][193] It was alleged in the authorized biography of Pfc. Jessica Lynch that she was raped by her captors after her capture, based on medical reports and the pattern of her injuries, though this is not supported by Ms Lynch.[194] Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, who later helped American forces rescue Lynch, stated that he saw an Iraqi Colonel slap Lynch while she was in her hospital bed.[195] The staff at the hospital where Lynch was held later denied both stories, saying that Lynch was well cared for.[196] While Lynch suffers from amnesia due to her injuries, Lynch herself has denied any mistreatment whilst in captivity.

Also on 23 March, a British Army engineering unit made a wrong turn near the town of Az Zubayr, which was still held by Iraqi forces. The unit was ambushed and Sapper Luke Allsopp and Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth became separated from the rest. Both were captured and executed by Iraqi irregular forces. In 2006, a video of Allsopp lying on the ground surrounded by Iraqi irregular forces was discovered.[197]

During the Battle of Nasiriyah, there was an incident where Iraqi irregulars feigned surrender to approach an American Marine unit securing a bridge. After getting close to the Marines, the Iraqis suddenly opened fire, killing 10 Marines and wounding 40.[186] In response, American forces reinforced security procedures for dealing with prisoners of war.[198]

Marine Sergeant Fernando Padilla-Ramirez was reported missing from his supply unit after an ambush north of Nasiriyah on 28 March. His body was later dragged through the streets of Ash-Shatrah and hung in the town square, and later taken down and buried by sympathetic locals. The corpse was discovered by U.S. forces on 10 April.[199][200][201]

Security, looting and war damage

Massive looting took place in the days following the 2003 invasion.[202] According to U.S. officials, the "reality of the situation on the ground" was that hospitals, water plants, and ministries with vital intelligence needed security more than other sites. There were only enough U.S. troops on the ground to guard a certain number of the many sites that ideally needed protection, and so, apparently, some "hard choices" were made.

A M109 howitzer guarding the National Museum of Iraq following the 2003 invasion of Iraq

It was reported that the National Museum of Iraq was among the looted sites. The FBI was soon called into Iraq to track down the stolen items. It was found that the initial allegations of looting of substantial portions of the collection were heavily exaggerated. Initial reports asserted a near-total looting of the museum, estimated at upwards of 170,000 inventory lots, or about 501,000 pieces. The more recent estimate places the number of stolen pieces at around 15,000, and about 10,000 of them probably were taken in an "inside job" before U.S. troops arrived, according to Bogdanos. Over 5,000 looted items have since been recovered.[203] An assertion that U.S. forces did not guard the museum because they were guarding the Ministry of Oil and Ministry of Interior is disputed by investigator Colonel Matthew Bogdanos in his 2005 book Thieves of Baghdad. Bogdanos notes that the Ministry of Oil building was bombed, but the museum complex, which took some fire, was not bombed. He also writes that Saddam Hussein's troops set up sniper's nests inside and on top of the museum, and nevertheless U.S. Marines and soldiers stayed close enough to prevent wholesale looting.

More serious for the post-war state of Iraq was the looting of cached weaponry and ordnance which fueled the subsequent insurgency. As many as 250,000 tons of explosives were unaccounted for by October 2004.[204] Disputes within the US Defense Department led to delays in the post-invasion assessment and protection of Iraqi nuclear facilities. Tuwaitha, the Iraqi site most scrutinized by UN inspectors since 1991, was left unguarded and was looted.[205][206]

Zainab Bahrani, professor of Ancient Near Eastern Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, reported that a helicopter landing pad was constructed in the heart of the ancient city of Babylon, and "removed layers of archeological earth from the site. The daily flights of the helicopters rattle the ancient walls and the winds created by their rotors blast sand against the fragile bricks. When my colleague at the site, Maryam Moussa, and I asked military personnel in charge that the helipad be shut down, the response was that it had to remain open for security reasons, for the safety of the troops."[207] Bahrani also reported that in the summer of 2004, "the wall of the Temple of Nabu and the roof of the Temple of Ninmah, both sixth century BC, collapsed as a result of the movement of helicopters."[207] Electrical power is scarce in post-war Iraq, Bahrani reported, and some fragile artifacts, including the Ottoman Archive, would not survive the loss of refrigeration.[207]

Media coverage

U.S. media coverage

A study found that in the lead up to the Iraq War, most U.S. sources were overwhelmingly in favor of the invasion.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq was the most widely and closely reported war in military history.[208] Television network coverage was largely pro-war and viewers were six times more likely to see a pro-war source as one who was anti-war.[209] The New York Times ran a number of articles describing Saddam Hussein's attempts to build weapons of mass destruction. The 8 September 2002 article titled "U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts" would be discredited, leading The New York Times to issue a public statement admitting it was not as rigorous as it should have been.[210]

At the start of the war in March 2003, as many as 775 reporters and photographers were traveling as embedded journalists.[211] These reporters signed contracts with the military that limited what they were allowed to report on.[212] When asked why the military decided to embed journalists with the troops, Lt. Col. Rick Long of the U.S. Marine Corps replied, "Frankly, our job is to win the war. Part of that is information warfare. So we are going to attempt to dominate the information environment."[213]

In 2003, a study released by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting stated the network news disproportionately focused on pro-war sources and left out many anti-war sources. According to the study, 64% of total sources were in favor of the Iraq War while total anti-war sources made up 10% of the media (only 3% of US sources were anti-war). The study looked only at 6 American news networks after 20 March for three weeks. The study stated that "viewers were more than six times as likely to see a pro-war source as one who was anti-war; with U.S. guests alone, the ratio increases to 25 to 1."[214]

A September 2003 poll revealed that seventy percent of Americans believed there was a link between Saddam Hussein and the attacks of 9/11.[215] 80% of Fox News viewers were found to hold at least one such belief about the invasion, compared to 23% of PBS viewers.[216] Ted Turner, founder of CNN, charged that Rupert Murdoch was using Fox News to advocate an invasion.[217] Critics have argued that this statistic is indicative of misleading coverage by the U.S. media since viewers in other countries were less likely to have these beliefs.[218] A post-2008 election poll by FactCheck.org found that 48% of Americans believe Hussein played a role in the 9/11 attacks, the group concluded that "voters, once deceived, tend to stay that way despite all evidence."[219]

Independent media coverage

Independent media also played a prominent role in covering the invasion. The Indymedia network, among many other independent networks including many journalists from the invading countries, provided reports on the Iraq war. In the United States Democracy Now, hosted by Amy Goodman has been critical of the reasons for the 2003 invasion and the alleged crimes committed by the U.S. authorities in Iraq.

The Israeli Military Censor have released gag orders to Fresh and Rotter news platforms preventing them releasing any information about events and action related to the invasion.[220]

On the other side, among media not opposing to the invasion, The Economist stated in an article on the matter that "the normal diplomatic tools—sanctions, persuasion, pressure, UN resolutions—have all been tried, during 12 deadly but failed years" then giving a mild conditional support to the war stating that "if Mr Hussein refuses to disarm, it would be right to go to war".[221]

Australian war artist George Gittoes collected independent interviews with soldiers while producing his documentary Soundtrack To War. The war in Iraq provided the first time in history that military on the front lines were able to provide direct, uncensored reportage themselves, thanks to blogging software and the reach of the internet. Dozens of such reporting sites, known as soldier blogs or milblogs, were started during the war. These blogs were more often than not largely pro-war and stated various reasons why the soldiers and Marines felt they were doing the right thing.[222]

International media coverage

International coverage of the war differed from coverage in the U.S. in a number of ways. The Arab-language news channel Al Jazeera and the German satellite channel Deutsche Welle featured almost twice as much information on the political background of the war.[223] Al Jazeera also showed scenes of civilian casualties which were rarely seen in the U.S. media.


Opponents of military intervention in Iraq have attacked the decision to invade Iraq along a number of lines, including calling into question the evidence used to justify the war, arguing for continued diplomacy, challenging the war's legality, suggesting that the U.S. had other more pressing security priorities, (i.e., Afghanistan and North Korea) and predicting that the war would destabilize the Middle East region. The breadth and depth of the criticism was particularly notable in comparison with the first Gulf War, which met with considerably less domestic and international opposition, although the geopolitical situation had evolved since the last decade.

Rationale based on faulty evidence

The central U.S. justification for launching the Iraq War was that Saddam Hussein's alleged development of nuclear and biological weapons and purported ties to al-Qaeda made his regime a "grave and growing"[224] threat to the United States and the world community.[225] During the lead-up to the war and the aftermath of the invasion, critics cast doubt on the evidence supporting this rationale. Concerning Iraq's weapons programs, prominent critics included Scott Ritter, a former U.N. weapons inspector who argued in 2002 that inspections had eliminated the nuclear and chemical weapons programs, and that evidence of their reconstitution would "have been eminently detectable by intelligence services ..." Although it is popularly believed that Saddam Hussein had forced the IAEA weapons inspectors to leave Iraq, they were in fact withdrawn at the request of US Ambassador Peter Burleigh in advance of Operation Desert Fox, the 1998 American bombing campaign. After the build-up of U.S. troops in neighboring states, Hussein welcomed them back and promised complete cooperation with their demands. Experienced IAEA inspection teams were already back in Iraq and had made some interim reports on its search for various forms of WMD.[226][227][228][229][230] American diplomat Joseph C. Wilson investigated the contention that Iraq had sought uranium for nuclear weapons in Niger and reported that the contention had no substance.[231][232]

Similarly, alleged links between Iraq and al-Qaeda were called into question during the lead-up to the war, and were discredited by a 21 October 2004 report from U.S. Senator Carl Levin, which was later corroborated by an April 2006 report from the Defense Department’s inspector general.[233] These reports further alleged that Bush Administration officials, particularly former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith, manipulated evidence to support links between al-Qaeda and Iraq.[234]

Lack of a U.N. mandate

One of the main questions in the lead-up to the war was whether the United Nations Security Council would authorize military intervention in Iraq. It became increasingly clear that U.N. authorization would require significant further weapons inspections. Many criticized their effort as unwise, immoral, and illegal. Robin Cook, then the leader of the United Kingdom House of Commons and a former foreign secretary, resigned from Tony Blair's cabinet in protest over the UK’s decision to invade without the authorization of a U.N. resolution. Cook said at the time that: "In principle I believe it is wrong to embark on military action without broad international support. In practice I believe it is against Britain's interests to create a precedent for unilateral military action."[235] In addition, senior government legal advisor Elizabeth Wilmshurst resigned, stating her legal opinion that an invasion would be illegal.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in an interview with the BBC in September 2004, "[F]rom our point of view and from the Charter point of view [the war] was illegal."[236] This drew immediate criticism from the United States and was immediately played down.[237] His annual report to the General Assembly for 2003 included no more than the statement: "Following the end of major hostilities which resulted in the occupation of Iraq..."[238] A similar report from the Security Council was similarly terse in its reference to the event: "Following the cessation of hostilities in Iraq in April 2003 ..."[239] The United Nations Security Council has passed nearly 60 resolutions on Iraq and Kuwait since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The most relevant to this issue is Resolution 678, passed on 29 November 1990. It authorizes "member states co-operating with the Government of Kuwait... to use all necessary means" to (1) implement Security Council Resolution 660 and other resolutions calling for the end of Iraq's occupation of Kuwait and withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwaiti territory and (2) "restore international peace and security in the area."

Military intervention vs diplomatic solution

Wikisource has original text related to this article:

Criticisms about the evidence used to justify the war notwithstanding, many opponents of military intervention objected, saying that a diplomatic solution would be preferable, and that war should be reserved as a truly last resort. This position was exemplified by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who responded to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's 5 February 2003 presentation to the U.N Security Council by saying that: "Given the choice between military intervention and an inspections regime that is inadequate because of a failure to cooperate on Iraq's part, we must choose the decisive reinforcement of the means of inspections."[240] In response to Donald Rumsfeld's reference to European countries that did not support the invasion of Iraq as 'Old Europe',[241] Dominique de Villepin ended his speech with words that would later come to embody the French-German political, economic, and military alliance throughout the beginning of the 21st Century: "This message comes to you today from an old country, France, from a continent like mine, Europe, that has known wars, occupation and barbarity. (...) Faithful to its values, it wishes resolutely to act with all the members of the international community. It believes in our ability to build together a better world."[242] The direct opposition between diplomatic solution and military intervention involving France and the United States which was personified by Chirac versus Bush and later Powell versus de Villepin, became a milestone in the Franco-American relations. Anti-French propangada exploiting the classic Francophobic clichés immediately ensued in the United States and the United Kingdom. A call for a boycott on French wine was launched in the United States and the New York Post covered on the 1944 "Sacrifice" of the GIs France would had forgotten. It was followed a week later, on 20 February, by the British newspaper The Sun publishing a special issue entitled "Chirac is a worm" and including ad hominem attacks such as "Jacques Chirac has become the shame of Europe".[243] Actually both newspapers expressed the opinion of their owner, U.S. billionaire Rupert Murdoch, a military intervention supporter and a George W. Bush partisan as argued by Roy Greenslade in The Guardian published on 17 February.[243][244]

Distraction from the war on terrorism and other priorities

Both supporters and opponents of the Iraq War widely viewed it within the context of a post–11 September world, where the U.S. has sought to make terrorism the defining international security paradigm. Bush often described the Iraq War as a "central front in the war on terror".[245] Some critics of the war, particularly within the U.S. military community, argued pointedly against the conflation of Iraq and the war on terror, and criticized Bush for losing focus on the more important objective of fighting al-Qaeda. As Marine Lieutenant General Greg Newbold, the Pentagon's former top operations officer, wrote in a 2006 TIME article, "I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat—al-Qaeda."[246]

Critics within this vein have further argued that containment would have been an effective strategy for the Hussein government, and that the top U.S. priorities in the Middle East should be encouraging a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, working for the moderation of Iran, and solidifying gains made in Afghanistan and Central Asia. In an October 2002 speech, Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former head of Central Command for U.S. forces in the Middle East and State Department's envoy to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, called Iraq "maybe six or seven," in terms of U.S. Middle East priorities, adding that "the affordability line may be drawn around five."[247] However, while commander of CENTCOM, Zinni held a very different opinion concerning the threat posed by Iraq. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2000, Zinni said: "Iraq remains the most significant near-term threat to U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf region. This is primarily due to its large conventional military force, pursuit of WMD, oppressive treatment of Iraqi citizens, refusal to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR), persistent threats to enforcement of the No Fly Zones (NFZ), and continued efforts to violate UN Security Council sanctions through oil smuggling."[248] However, it is important to note that Zinni specifically referred to "the Persian Gulf region" in his Senate testimony, which is a significantly smaller region of the world than the "Middle East", which he referred to in 2007.

Potential to destabilize the region

Besides arguing that Iraq was not the top strategic priority in the war on terrorism or in the Middle East, critics of the war also suggested that it could potentially destabilize the surrounding region. Prominent among such critics was Brent Scowcroft, who served as National Security Advisor to George H. W. Bush. In a 15 August 2002 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled "Don't attack Saddam", Scowcroft wrote that, "Possibly the most dire consequences would be the effect in the region ... there would be an explosion of outrage against us ... the results could well destabilize Arab regimes", and, "could even swell the ranks of the terrorists."[249] In an October 2015 CNN interview with Fareed Zakaria, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair apologized for his 'mistakes' over Iraq War and admitted there were 'elements of truth' to the view that the invasion helped promote the rise of ISIS.[250]

Related phrases

Poland was part of the "coalition of the willing"

This campaign featured a variety of new terminology, much of it initially coined by the U.S. government or military. The military official name for the invasion was Operation Iraqi Liberation[251] (O.I.L.), however this was quickly changed to "Operation Iraqi Freedom". Also notable was the usage "death squads" to refer to Fedayeen paramilitary forces. Members of the Saddam Hussein government were called by disparaging nicknames – e.g., "Chemical Ali" (Ali Hassan al-Majid), "Baghdad Bob" or "Comical Ali" (Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf), and "Mrs. Anthrax" or "Chemical Sally" (Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash).

Terminology introduced or popularized during the war include:

Many slogans and terms coined came to be used by Bush's political opponents, or those opposed to the war. For example, in April 2003 John Kerry, the Democratic candidate in the presidential election, said at a campaign rally: "What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States."[254] Other war critics use the name "Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL)" to subtly point out their opinion as to the cause of the war, such as the song "Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL)" by David Rovics, a popular folk protest singer.

See also





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