THE WAR IN IRAQ (2003–2008)
By the end of February 2003, it was obvious to the world that a U.S.-led coalition was intent on invading Iraq. The stated goal was twofold: remove Saddam Hussein from power and recover his supposed cache of weapons of mass destruction.
While a good deal of the world opposed the idea of regime change by military intervention, many Iraqis supported it. Leaders who had been living in exile in London and Washington, D.C., had actively sought such an outcome, and some had even assisted the United States in making its case.
Within Iraq, the mood was more cautious. Certainly, the removal of Hussein would be welcomed by Shii Arabs as well as Kurds since both groups had suffered greatly during his rule, especially in the wake of the Persian Gulf War. Moreover, there were some Sunni groups and tribes whose opposition to Hussein had made their positions tenuous.
Many tribal shaykhs had beneﬁ ted greatly under Hussein, who practiced a kind of government subsidy that in effect purchased tribal loyalty. How ought they react to the upcoming invasion? As it turned out, in many cases, they expected business to resume to normal, even without Hussein in power. Furthermore, there had already been assassination and coup attempts against Hussein. These had all failed. Who was to say this latest threat would succeed?
Another reason for the caution was that no one was sure what to expect after the fall of the Baathist regime. Would the Sunnis retain their position as mandarins of Iraqi society? Would the Shiis ﬁ nally have a say in the government, respective of their majority status? And what of the Kurds? Was their longtime dream of Kurdistan about to come true? Or, would they enjoy an autonomy on par with Arab Iraq? No one stopped to ponder these questions in the rush toward war early in 2003.
And as civil society broke down in the weeks and months after the coalition invasion of Iraq, the answers became muddled in insurgent and sectarian violence. Old hatreds ﬂ amed anew, even as the infrastructure of Iraq burned. Within a year those who may have looked upon the coalition forces as liberators, no longer did so. Yet, despite the ongoing disaster, and to its credit, Iraq managed to forge a new government, federal in nature, parliamentary in practice. The country had taken its ﬁ rst step toward recovery.
The First Phase of the War
With an overwhelming majority of the American public and the U.S. Congress behind armed intervention in Iraq, not to mention a sizable percentage of the American people falsely believing there had been a connection between Hussein and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks (thus linking the upcoming invasion with the U.S.-declared “war on terror”), the Bush administration and the Labour government of Prime Minister Tony Blair in Great Britain were conﬁ dent of a quick and successful invasion of Iraq.
On March 18, 2003, Bush issued an ultimatum to Hussein ordering the Iraqi dictator and his two sons, Udai and Qusai, to leave Iraq, giving them a 48-hour deadline to honor the ultimatum. Though he was offered sanctuary in Bahrain (as reported by China’s Xinhua News Agency), Hussein appeared on Iraqi television in military uniform and announced his refusal to leave Iraq.
The next day, the United States jumped the gun on the president’s deadline when it bombed the compound of Hussein’s sons in a Baghdad suburb, where it was mistakenly thought they were meeting with their father and other Iraqi leaders. Instead, civilians, including a child, were killed, thus becoming the ﬁ rst “collateral damage” of a war that had yet to begin.
The invasion of Iraq, dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom by forces of the “Coalition of the Willing,” as the mostly U.S. and British multinational force was called, took place on March 20, 2003, from staging areas primarily in Kuwait. The original invasion plan had called for simultaneous attacks from the north as well as the south, but Turkey refused permission for coalition troops to amass in its territory. The attack, with simultaneous aerial bombing and ground force assault (as opposed to the Persian Gulf War where weeks of bombing preceded the ground war), was termed shock and awe.
With history in mind, the British were charged with securing and occupying Basra and the surrounding area, while U.S. forces swept northward for the assault on Baghdad. This northward push was called Operation Cobra II, after General George S. Patton’s Third Army breakout from Normandy in 1944 during the liberation of France, the original Operation Cobra.
Within two days, forces were halfway to Baghdad, but it was not until April 9, that the capital was formally under U.S. control. By then, ﬁ ghting in northern Iraq (with Kurds aiding the coalition forces) had begun. This was the second prong in the original attack plan; part of its mission was securing the Kirkuk oil ﬁ elds, which was fairly easily accomplished. With the British in the south securing the Rumaila ﬁ elds and the U.S. forces securing Kirkuk, there were far fewer oil well ﬁ res than had occurred in the Persian Gulf War.
The fall of Baghdad brought home the realization that Hussein was no longer in power, yet he had managed to escape capture, as had his sons. Others in the Iraqi leadership, however, had not. Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz surrendered to U.S. forces on April 24, after formally handing over the reins of government to the coalition forces.
In search of Saddam Hussein, coalition forces had pushed toward his hometown of Tikrit, which had become the ﬁ nal major city to fall to coalition forces on April 14. While the Battle of Tikrit yielded Hussein’s political and clan stronghold, it failed to uncover the deposed leader. Nevertheless, the Pentagon declared an end to major military operations. At that point, the (subsequently) estimated number of Iraqi casualties was between 4,900 and 6,375, according to CBS News. Those ﬁgures were subsequently revised upward.
On May 1, 2003, President Bush, in a staged television event, landed in a jet ﬁ ghter aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which was in the process of returning to its home port of San Diego from the Persian Gulf. The president, who emerged from the jet in a ﬂ ight suit and helmet with a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished” in large letters as a backdrop, said, “The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September 11, 2001, and still goes on.” He also stated in reference to al-Qaeda that “no terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because that regime is no more.” Thus, in declaring victory, the president had reiterated two falsehoods: that Iraq possessed WMD and that Hussein was in alliance with bin Laden.