2003 invasion of Iraq

2003 invasion of Iraq
Part of the Iraq War
UStanks baghdad 2003.JPEG
U.S. Army M1A1 Abrams tanks and their crews pose for a photo in front of the "Victory Arch" monument at Baghdad's Ceremony Square in November 2003.
Date20 March – 1 May 2003
(1 month, 1 week and 4 days)
LocationIraq
Result

Coalition victory

Belligerents

Coalition forces:
 United States
 United Kingdom
 Australia
 Poland


With military support from:
Iraqi National Congress[1][2][3]
Iraqi Kurdistan Peshmerga

Iraq


Ansar al-Islam
Commanders and leaders

United States George W. Bush
United States Tommy Franks
United Kingdom Tony Blair
United Kingdom Brian Burridge

Masoud Barzani
Babakir Zebari
Jalal Talabani
Kosrat Rasul Ali
Ahmed Chalabi
Iraq Saddam Hussein
Iraq Qusay Hussein
Iraq Uday Hussein
Iraq Abid Hamid Mahmud
Iraq Ali Hassan al-Majid
Iraq Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti
Iraq Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri
Iraq Ra'ad al-Hamdani
Iraq Taha Yassin Ramadan
Iraq Tariq Aziz
Abu Abdullah Warya Salih ash-Shafi'i
Strength

380,000 troops[7]

 United States: 192,000 troops[8]
 United Kingdom: 45,000 troops

 Australia: 2,000 troops
 Poland: 194 Special Forces[9]

Iraqi Kurdistan Peshmerga: 70,000[10]

Iraqi National Congress: 620

Coat of arms of Iraq (1991-2004).svg Iraqi Armed Forces: 375,000
Iraqi Republican Guard Symbol.svg Special Iraqi Republican Guard: 12,000
Iraqi Republican Guard Symbol.svg Iraqi Republican Guard: 70,000–75,000
Fedayeen Saddam SSI.svg Fedayeen Saddam: 30,000
Iraqi reserves: 650,000[11][12]


Ansar al-Islam: 600–800
Casualties and losses

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

Total:
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]
Total: 7,600–45,000 killed

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 signalled the start of the Iraq War, which the United States dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom (prior to 19 March, the mission in Iraq was called "Operation Enduring Freedom", a carry-over 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 included the capture of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad by American forces with the implicit assistance of the United Kingdom, alongside Australia and Poland.

The American-led Coalition sent 177,194 troops into Iraq during the initial invasion phase, which lasted from 19 March to 9 April 2003. About 130,000 arrived from the USA alone, with about 45,000 British soldiers, 2,000 Australian soldiers, and 194 Polish soldiers. 36 other countries were involved in its aftermath. In preparation for the invasion, 100,000 U.S. troops assembled in Kuwait by 18 February.[21] The coalition forces also received support from the Peshmerga in Iraqi Kurdistan.

According to U.S. President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, the coalition aimed "to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people."[22] Others place a much greater emphasis on the impact of the September 11 attacks, on the role this played in changing U.S. strategic calculations, and the rise of the freedom agenda.[23][24] 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.[25]

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.[26] The invasion of Iraq was strongly opposed by some long-standing U.S. allies, including the governments of France, Germany, and New Zealand.[27][28][29] Their leaders argued that there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that invading that 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 the Guinness Book of Records listed as the largest ever anti-war rally.[30] 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.[31]

The invasion was preceded by an airstrike 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 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 the coalition occupied Baghdad 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 on 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 President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat operations: this ended the invasion period and began the period of military occupation.

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.[32] 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.[33][34]

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."[35] 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.[36] 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.[37]

Two US F-16 Fighting 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" Saddam.[38] 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.[39]

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.[40] 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."[41] A memo written by Rumsfeld in November 2001 considers an Iraq war.[42] 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.[43]

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.[44]

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."[45] 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.[46]

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.[47] 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.[48]

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.[49] 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.[50][51][52]

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.[26]

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))[53] 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.[53] Sargat was the only facility of its type discovered in the Iraq war.[54][55]

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.[53][56] SAD operations officers were also successful in convincing key Iraqi Army officers into surrendering their units once the fighting started.[54]

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.[57] Four of these CIA officers were awarded the Intelligence Star for their actions.[54][55]

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".[58] 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.[59][60]

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.[30]

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.[61] 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.[62]

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.[63] 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.[64] 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.

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