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Index / Political / Modern Wars /
US/British-Iraqi War
Also called: Gulf War III; 3rd Gulf War

1. Background
2. The failure of US diplomacy
3. The war / First phase
4. The war / Second phase
5. History

Battle of Nasiriyah

American POW

TV address from Saddam Hussein

War launched by US and British forces, with the assistance of British forces, against Iraq starting March 2003. USA claimed that 30 countries openly supported the action, and that 15 or more were anonymous supporters.
The war was started without the support of the United Nations, where strong members like France, Russia, Germany and Sweden all opposed the war, and supported the request of the UN inspectors to continue their control work inside Iraq.

The initial background for the war was the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 (see article on Gulf War), where Iraqi President Saddam Hussein included the country as Iraq's 19th province, as had been the aim of Iraqi leaders ever since Kuwait's independence in 1961. Iraq was driven out of Kuwait by February 1991, and agreed to both pay indemnities, and allow the disarmament of the country under the control of the United Nations.
Iraq was reluctant to cooperating with UN inspectors, resulting in sanctions that prohibited the import of products that could be used for military purposes, many medicines and foodstuffs etc.
In 1998 Iraq felt that the inspections were dragging out, and that every area had been sufficiently controlled. They asked for the lifting of sanctions, and sent all inspectors out of the country.
In 2001 and even more in 2002, USA started a campaign both in media as well as in United Nations to resume the inspections on Iraq. Towards the end of 2002, it was clear that USA was preparing on going to war.
The official motivation for going to war was by USA defined as Iraq representing a threat to its neighbours by its weapons of mass destruction. "Weapons of mass destruction" was defined as bacteriological and chemical substances, weaponry to carry this into neighbouring countries, as well as possibly nuclear weapons, or at least a programme for developing nuclear weapons.
In late 2002 UN inspectors were admitted back into Iraq following UN Security Resolution 1441 and the clear threat of military action from the USA if Iraq did not comply. The inspectors resumed the control work for establishing any breach on the military regulations imposed on Iraq following the cease fire in 1991. They inspected areas indicated both by Iraqi reports, UN reports and US, British and Israeli intelligence. The inspectors reports indicated that Iraq was cooperating very reluctantly, but that there were no serious breach on the regulations. In all cases where USA had indicated suspected areas, the inspectors concluded that the areas contained nothing suspicious. In early March, the leader of the UN inspectors, Hans Blix stated that the cooperation from Iraqi side was much improved and that he wanted to inspections to continue for a period of a few months more. Blix told the press, after resigning, that he had had the feeling that USA were irritated over the work the inspectors did, and did not listen to information that didn't fit their need to blame Iraq.
More serious, however, is that the evidence presented for Iraqi nuclear program, proved to be falsified. It was unclear who had been behind the falsification; British intelligence, Israel's Mossad or exile-Iraqi groups.

The failure of US diplomacy
Colin Powell presented in February 2003 evidence to the UN Security Council that was quickly ridiculed by many Western journalists and experts, both because they were non-conclusive in every respect, and because they represented nothing new compared to earlier reports.
As the claim on "weapons of mass destruction" appeared to be more and more hollow, US rhetorics changed into presenting Saddam Hussein as a dangerous and cruel dictator. One of the most used proofs for this was that he had killed his own people with gas, referring to the massacre against the Kurdish population of Halabja 15 years earlier.
Iraq has since the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, not one single time threatened their neighbours. They have officially recognized Kuwait as an independent state. All neighbour countries of Iraq came together in late 2002 stating that they did not want a war against Iraq to break out.
As USA set out to liberate Iraq from its dictator, commentators close to the regime of Washington indicated that a war campaign would be swift, and that US forces would be hailed as liberators by Iraqi civilians, and that Iraqi soldiers would lay down their weapons as soon as they faced the strength of the US military.
The reason why USA decided to attack Iraq with minimal international support, instead of waiting until a final conclusion had been reached by the UN inspectors is difficult to determine. It does however appear that the administration of Bush relied upon their intelligence reports on illegal Iraqi programs of production of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons to the degree that they were certain that inspections would convince the international society of the danger imposed by Saddam Hussein. Moreover Bush' administration must have believed that Saddam never would give in to international pressure, hence military action would be imperative. USA started to prepare for that war, moving large troops to the areas around Iraq, spending billions of dollars. Eventually, USA did not get support from many of their allies, but too much, both politically and economically, was on stake, to withdraw the forces.

The war / First phase
Over the first days of the war, things didn't develop as Western politicians had expected. Iraqi forces gave fierce resistance from small strategic pockets at the places where US forces advanced. There were hardly any Iraqi soldier surrendering without fight.
US and British politicians and military claimed initially that everything developed as planned. But on March 27, a senior ground commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace admitted to Washington Post: "The enemy we're fighting is different from the one we'd war-gamed against". The local population of Iraqi receives US troops only with the utmost suspicion. The people did not start to flee their country, rather there were many Iraqis living in countries like Jordan and Syria that returned home to help their families.
All in all, the 7-10 days of the war proved that the Iraqi military had prepared well, and at times the US-led advance was very difficult. During this time, the US-led forces made no real military advances, they only took control over the desert highway leading from the south to the centre of the country.

The war / Second phase
Gradually a new front opened in the north. This front had initially been planned to be launched from Turkey, but the Turkish parliament did not accept an agreement between the US and Turkish governments. However, this front proved to be far more effective, as there was a close cooperation with the Kurdish troops of the three autonomous governorates in the north. US-led bombardment was followed up by Kurdish ground advances. After around 10 days, US special troops landed in the region, aiming at clearing the ground for a larger attack.
About two weeks into the war weaknesses of the Iraqi defence power started to become more evident, probably because of the heavy bombardment of military positions and political headquarters, as well as communications infrastructure.
Within few days, main cities like Basra, Nasiriyah and eventually even Baghdad fell without much of the anticipated street fighting. Few, including apparently military experts, had believed that Baghdad would be easy to take. But the resistance that the authorities had prepared disappeared — the volunteers left their strongholds and returned to protect their families.
On April 14 US-led forces had taken control over even Tikrit, home of Saddam's clan and the city that had enjoyed positive discrimination over decades, developing into one of the most prosperous places in the country. By this time, the war was over, but a new battle had begun: The reconstruction of control and safety in the country.

2003 March 18: US President George W. Bush gives a final ultimatum to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, not to disarm fully, but to leave the country together with his son within 48 hours. Bush says that unless this happens, US forces will attack Iraq in order to remove him from power.
March 20, 04.45 (Baghdad time): US forces start bombing Baghdad, aiming at a position believed to be held by Saddam Hussein. Special forces invade the country from south in order to clear the passageway for ground troops in the real invasion. The initial attacks aim at taking control over the Rumaylah oil fields along the border towards Kuwait, the city of Umm Qasr to secure the deliveries of provisions and military equipment, and through the uninhabited desert towards Baghdad.
— Iraqi troops sets a smaller number oil fields on fire, before the advancing US troops drive them out.
March 21: US military officials say they have taken control over the port town of Umm Qasr right across the border from Kuwait. It soon proves that they have only taken control over the port, not the town itself.
— Attack by US special forces against Kirkuk in the north.
— US forces reach Nasiriyah, where fighting in the outskirts commence.
— Air raids launched against Mosul in the north.
— Attacks are launched against Basra in the south.
March 22: Iraq says no oil wells were set ablaze, rather oil-filled trenches. — Baghdad is bombed heavily during the night.
March 23: US-led troops reach the city of Najaf, 180 km south of Baghdad.
— Iraq captures 5 US soldiers, and broadcasts images of them.
March 24: Saddam Hussein appear on Iraqi TV, claiming that Iraq is capturing US-led forces into a "deadly quagmire".
— US forces arrive in the area around Karbala.
March 25: A sandstorm blows over central parts of Iraq and the Persian Gulf. This slows down the advance of US-led forces. Fights continue over specifically Basra, and Baghdad is bombed day and night.
— The port of Umm Qasr is declared "safe and open" by British troops. Iraq claims that only part of the port is open, and town still under Iraqi control.
— Reports go out that a popular rebellion has started in Basra, directed at government officials.
March 26: First shipment of humanitarian aid arrive in the Iraqi border town of Safwan.
— Iraqi artillery breaks through US-led front line heading in direction of the coast. Their advance is soon halted.
March 27: The sandstorm ends.
— US special troops arrive in Northern Iraq, north of Irbil. Their aim is to establish bases together with the local Kurdish army, in order to allow a larger invasion.
March 29: The US-led troops stops their advance along the southern front, due to insufficient supplies of fuel and food.
— US troops claim to have found chemical warfare protection equipment near Nasiriyah.
March 30: Suicide bomber volunteers from other Muslim countries arrive in Baghdad.
April 2: US-led troops arrive at the outer control zone around Baghdad, and the promised "Battle of Baghdad" was about to begin.
April 4: Lights go out all over Baghdad.
— US troops report that they have taken control over Saddam International Airport south of Baghdad. Another southern front had advanced along the Tigris river, through Kut, arriving at Baghdad's eastern side.
April 10: US-led forces take effective control over Baghdad, ending the regime of Saddam Hussein. Street violence and looting starts.
April 14: US-led forces take control over central Tikrit, the last believed stronghold of Saddam's regime.
2004: Iraqi resistance, as well as foreign Muslim troops, mainly Islamists, start to make resistance to the US-led occupation. Cities like Fallujah and parts of Baghdad comes under the control of mainly Sunni Muslim troops.
June 28: The formal power of Iraq is transferred from US hands to an interim government headed by president Ghazi al-Yawar and prime minister Iyad Allawi. Free elections were proposed to be staged in early 2005.
September 15: UN general secretary Kofi Annan declares the war on Iraq "not in conformity with the UN Charter from my point, and from the Charter point of view it was illegal" in an interview with the British broadcaster BBC.

By Tore Kjeilen