War in Iraq (2003)

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WAR IN IRAQ (2003)

Controversial U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.

During the decade following the Gulf War of 1991, U.S.Iraqi relations remained tense. At issue was the extent to which Iraq was cooperating with international monitors looking for evidence that the country was free of any weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, nuclear weapons). The United States was the leading force within the UN Security Council urging that the crippling international economic sanctions against Iraq that had been in place since August 1990 be continued until the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) could certify Iraqi compliance. Several times during the administration of U.S. president William J. (Bill) Clinton, the situation deteriorated into crisis, including the December 1998 U.S. attack on Iraq known in the United States as Operation Desert Fox. Shortly thereafter, Iraq announced that UNSCOM's mission was over altogether.

Hardening of U.SIraq Relations under George W. Bush

The administration of President George W. Bush brought about a marked hardening of U.S. attitudes toward Iraq once he took office in January 2001. Bush, son of former president George H.W. Bush, who had led the 1991 Gulf War against Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, filled his administration with many veterans of his father's war with Iraq. These included Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who had been chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the U.S. military at the time of the Gulf War, and Vice President Richard Cheney, who had been secretary of defense for the elder Bush. The attacks carried out by al-Qaʿida on 11 September 2001, and Bush's decision to invade Afghanistan in October 2001, only hardened his resolve to confront Iraq. In his 30 January 2002 state of the union address, Bush included Iraq along with Iran and North Korea in what he called an "Axis of Evil." He pointed to what he claimed was evidence of Iraq's noncompliance with UN Security Council resolutions calling for disarmament, including a document purporting to show that Iraq had attempted to purchase 500 tons of uranium from Niger in 2000 (the International Atomic Energy Agency later proclaimed the document to be counterfeit). After months of claiming that Saddam Hussein constituted a clear threat to the United States, Bush convinced the U.S. congress to authorize him to use force against Iraq. The U.S. media offered no serious challenge to the administration's agenda.

Iraq agreed to allow UN weapons inspectors to return in September 2002, but an international debate over how to proceed ensued. The Bush administration encountered significant difficulties when it tried to convince other nations to support the use of force against Iraq if it failed to comply fully with UN resolutions. Not only did Bush face opposition from traditional rivals such as Russia and China, but he also had problems with longstanding U.S. allies within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), including Germany and France. Those four nations, all of which sat on the UN Security Council at that time (Russia, China, and France as permanent members), remained adamant that the weapons inspectors be allowed to resume their activities before they would countenance any talk of war. Among U.S. allies, only Britain and Spain offered their full support to the U.S. hard line.

On 8 November 2002 the UN Security Council finally passed Resolution 1441, which demanded that Iraq allow the return of weapons inspectors. Iraq accepted, and officials of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), created in December 1999 to replace UNSCOM, began their work on 27 November. In a 27 January 2003 report, chief inspectors Hans Blix and Muhammad El Baradei generally praised Iraqi cooperation and noted that they had not uncovered any evidence of weapons of mass destruction in the approximately 300 inspections that UNMOVIC had carried out to that date. The United States and Britain continued to make the case that Iraq had such weapons and constituted an immediate threat. On 3 February British prime minister Tony Blair posted a document on his official Web site that he claimed showed Iraqi weapons violations, based in part on British intelligence (parts of the document were later shown to have been plagiarized from open sources, not intelligence reports). U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell addressed the Security Council five days later, using props such as intercepted audiotapes of Iraqi military commanders' conversations, to convince the council that Iraq continued to disregard the international community. The U.S. administration also shifted its rationale for war during late 2002 and early 2003, mentioning banned weapons, then discussing possible Iraqi links to the al-Qaʿida network, then discussing the need to liberate Iraqis from Saddam's Hussein's dictatorial rule.

During the weeks of this debate there was unprecedented popular global opposition to waging war against Iraq. Demonstrations were held on all seven continents in early 2003, including at the McMurdo scientific research station in Antarctica. It has been estimated that 30 million people worldwide participated in antiwar demonstrations in 600 cities in dozens of countries during a weekend of global protest from 14 to 16 February. Countries whose governments supported the warBritain, Spain, Italy, and the United Stateswere the scenes of what were perhaps their nations' largest ever public rallies. Huge demonstrations were held in Italy, where Pope John Paul II appealed for peace from the hawks. A January 2003 demonstration in freezing temperatures in Washington, D.C., was called the largest demonstration in the United States since the era of the Vietnam war protests.

Undeterred by such massive global opposition, including from longstanding U.S. allies, the United States tried twice, in late February and early March, to convince the Security Council to adopt a resolution stating that Iraq had failed to comply with Resolution 1441 and calling for "serious consequences." These attempts failed. On 15 March UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan weighed into the debate by saying that an attack on Iraq absent a new resolution would constitute a violation of the UN charter. Bush, however, gave a televised speech the following day in which he demanded that Saddam Hussein and his sons Uday and Qusay leave Iraq within 48 hours or face attack. They refused. In Britain, the House of Commons voted two days after that, on 18 March, to support war.

The war commenced on 20 March with aerial bombing of Baghdad. Ground forces of a U.S.-led coalition invaded from Kuwait the next day while airborne troops based secretly in Jordan captured air bases in western Iraq. In addition to 255,000 Americans, this coalition eventually included 45,000 British troops, 2,000 Australians, and 200 each from Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. Fighting was fierce, but Iraqi forces were doomed from the start. By 6 April U.S.forces had captured Karbala and British troops had entered Basra. By 9 April U.S. forces had entered Baghdad as Saddam's regime crumbled. There were scenes of wild jubilation in parts of Baghdad at Saddam's downfall, as, for example, when crowds (and a U.S. tank) pulled down a huge statue of the deposed leader that had stood in Firdaws Square in downtown Baghdad. Tragically, the looting that swept through the city spread to some of Iraq's most important archaeo-logical museums. The National Museum in Baghdad was sacked between 9 and 12 April, and both common pilferers and professional art thieves stole nearly 15,000 artifacts, some of them priceless treasures. Working with INTERPOL, U.S. officials worked to track down stolen artifacts that had been smuggled out of Iraq. By September 2003 more than 3,400 items from the National Museum had been recovered in Iraq, Jordan, Italy, and elsewhere. There was at least one case in which members of the U.S. forces themselves took an artifact from an Iraqi museum: The helmet of an Israeli aviator shot down over Iraq in June 1967 was taken from a display in a Baghdad military museum and given to Israeli authorities in Jordan in August 2003.

In the north, Kurdish forces joined the fight and helped to capture Mosul and Kirkuk. Saddam Hussein and other leading Iraqi officials went into hiding. The fighting was largely over by 16 April, and Bush declared on 1 May that "major combat operations" were over. At that point, U.S. and British military deaths in combat totaled 120. Iraqi deaths during that time, both civilian and military, were much more difficult to ascertain; estimates range from between 5,000 to 7,000 civilians killed, and 4,800 to 6,300 Iraqi soldiers. Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay were killed in a shootout with U.S. troops in Mosul on 22 July. Saddam himself was eventually captured by U.S. forces near Tikrit on 14 December.

Occupation of Iraq

To administer the occupied country, the United States created the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. On 21 April 2003 former U.S. army general Jay Garner (1938) was appointed as its head. Garner served as the civilian governor of occupied Iraq until he was replaced on 6 May by former U.S. State Department official L. Paul Bremer III (1941). Bremer was named the administrator of the new Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA; in Arabic, Sultat al-Iʾtilaf alMuʾaqqata), a division of the U.S. Department of Defense. As a result, Bremer became the civilian head of a U.S. military occupation administration. Through Security Council Resolution 1483 of 22 May 2003, the UN formally recognized the United States and Britain as occupying powers and lifted the sanctions imposed on Iraq, even though UNMOVIC had not yet certified Iraqi disarmament, as required by the sanctions resolutions. U.S. officials stated that the occupation was costing the United States approximately $1 billion per week, although some of those costs included items such as military salaries that would have been paid anyway. The United States also dispatched former secretary of state James Baker on an international campaign to convince Iraq's creditors to forgive the country's debts that had been accumulated by Saddam.

On 13 July 2003 Bremer created the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) as an advisory body. The IGC included representatives from Iraq's main ethnic and religious groups, opposition politicians such as the Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Masʿud Barzani, and returned exiles such as former diplomat Adnan Pachachi and Ahmad Chalabi, founder of the Iraqi National Congress. The IGC was allowed to form a cabinet, but final authority lay with Bremer, who retained veto powers over the IGC's decisions.

Armed resistance to the occupation escalated in the summer of 2003, as did attacks on a variety of Iraqi political and religious figures and foreign officials. On 19 August a car bomb at UN headquarters in Baghdad killed the top UN envoy to Iraq, Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello (19482003). Ten days later, on 29 August, leading Shiʿite cleric Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim (19392003) was assassinated in a massive bomb explosion in alNajaf. By early 2004 guerrillas were carrying out increasingly more sophisticated bombings and other attacks on U.S. and other occupation troops, which had expanded by early 2004 to include combat and noncombat forces from thirty additional countries besides those that originally participated in the war. These attacks became an almost daily occurrence, not so much in the Shiʿite and Kurdish regions of Iraq as in the "Sunni Triangle" north of Baghdad, near towns such as Falluja and Tikrit. In addition, numerous car bombings killed scores of Iraqi civilians and officers of the reconstructed Iraqi police. On 2 March 2004, over 140 Iraqi Shiʿa were killed during attacks in Baghdad and Karbala that came during the important Shiʿite religious celebration of Ashura. By late February 2004, 548 U.S. soldiers had died in Iraq since the beginning of the war, 337 as a result of hostile activity. Iraqi civilian deaths since the war began ranged somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000.

Controversy continued to swirl after the onset of the occupation. Although the presence of weapons of mass destruction was the major ostensible reason for going to war, by early 2004 occupation authorities had still not found any such stockpiles, a situation that eventually led President Bush, in January 2004, to call for a formal inquiry into prewar U.S. intelligence failures. In late 2003 in Britain, Prime Minister Blair was also engulfed in a controversy over the accuracy of his government's handling of intelligence. Paul Bremer was adamant by early 2004 that the CPA would turn over "sovereignty" to the Iraqi people on 30 June 2004, although coalition troops would remain in the country. There were conflicting opinions about the shape of the new governmental system. Bremer's proposals for regional caucuses as the basis for constructing a new Iraqi legislature and interim government were rejected by most Iraqis, and he backed away from the idea in mid-February 2004. The leading Shiʿite cleric, Ayatullah Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani (1930), wanted direct elections held as soon as possible. Iraq's Shiʿite Arabs and Kurds were much better organized politically than other ethnic and religious groups, including Sunni Arabs, Turkmen, Assyrians, and others, who were fearful that such quick elections could produce a Shiʿite-dominated country. In addition, the fact that al-Sistani is originally an Iranian (who came to Iraq decades ago) has raised some Sunni suspicions about Iranian influence. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to Iraq to produce a recommendation for how to proceed, and stated in late February that it was not feasible to hold direct elections prior to the handover of sovereignty on 30 June. Fearing the possibility that Iraqis might draft a constitution that proclaimed shariʿa to be the basis for legislation in the new Iraq, Bremer announced on 16 February that he would veto any such proposal coming from the IGC. On 8 March 2004, the IGC signed a provisional constitution for a federal Iraq that granted the Kurds a considerable voice in government. The constitution also called shariʿa "a source" of legislation, as opposed to "the source."

see also annan, kofi a.; baker, james a.; barzani family; bush, george herbert walker; bush, george walker; chalabi, ahmad; clinton, william jefferson; gulf crisis (19901991); gulf war (1991); hussein, saddam; iraq; iraqi national congress; powell, colin l.; qaʿida, al-; sanctions, iraqi.


Cordesman, Anthony H. The Iraq War: Strategy, Tactics, and Military Lessons. New York: Praeger, 2003.

Mahajan, Rahul. Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.

Official web site of the Coalition Provisional Authority: Authority. Official web site available from <http://cpa-iraq.org>.

Smith, Ray L., and West, Bing. The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the First Marine Division. New York: Bantam, 2003.

michael r. fischbach

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War in Iraq (2003)

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