Prelude to the invasion
Hostilities of the 1991 Gulf War were suspended on 28 February 1991, with a cease-fire negotiated between the UN Coalition and Iraq. 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.
A UN weapons inspector in Iraq, 2002.
In October 1998, removing the Iraqi government 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." 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. 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 Saddam's grip on power.
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" Saddam. 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.
Despite the Bush administration's stated interest in liberating Iraq, little formal movement towards an invasion occurred until the September 11 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. Secretary of Defense Donald 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. 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." A memo written by Rumsfeld in November 2001 considers an Iraq war. 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.
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.
Preparations for war
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." 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.
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. 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.
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). Saddam 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. 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.
In October 2002, the U.S. Congress passed the "Iraq Resolution". 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 Saddam 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 Saddam from power.
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)) 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. 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. Sargat was the only facility of its type discovered in the Iraq war.
SAD teams also conducted missions behind enemy lines to identify leadership targets. These missions led to the initial air strikes against Saddam and his generals. Although the strike against Saddam 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. SAD operations officers were also successful in convincing key Iraqi Army officers into surrendering their units once the fighting started.
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. Four of these CIA officers were awarded the Intelligence Star for their actions.
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". 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.
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.
On 20 March 2003, Spanish Prime Minister, José María Aznar, UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, President of the United States George W. Bush, and Prime Minister of Portugal, José Manuel Durão Barroso as host, met in the Azores, to discuss the invasion of Iraq, and Spain's potential involvement in the war, as well as the beginning of the invasion. This encounter was extremely controversial in Spain, even now remaining a very sensitive point for the Aznar government. Almost a year later, Madrid suffered the worst terrorist attack in Europe since the Lockerbie bombing, motivated by Spain's decision to participate in the Iraq war, prompting some Spaniards to accuse the Prime Minister of being responsible.
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 Saddam and his two sons, Uday and Qusay, surrender and leave Iraq, giving them a 48-hour deadline. 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. 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 in 1846. 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.