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- For other uses of the term, see Iraq war (disambiguation)
The 2003 invasion of Iraq (also called the 2nd or 3rd Persian Gulf War) began on March 20, 2003, when forces belonging primarily to the United States and the United Kingdom invaded Iraq arguably without the explicit backing of the United Nations Security Council. Ground forces from Australia and Poland and naval forces from Australia, Denmark and Spain played militarily minor, if politically significant, roles. At the time, the 2003 invasion was commonly called the "Iraq War" outside of Iraq. This term is also used to refer to the continuing hostilities during the Post-invasion Iraq, 2003-2005.
After approximately three weeks of fighting, Iraq's Ba'athist government was toppled and the 2003 occupation of Iraq began. While a majority of the US population and 49 governments supported it, a large majority of the world population, of world countries, and of countries in the UN Security Council opposed the invasion (worldwide government positions on war on Iraq).
The start of hostilities came within a few hours after the expiration of a 48-hour deadline (which ran out at 8:00 P.M. Eastern Standard Time on March 19, 2003) which was set by U.S. President George W. Bush, demanding that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his two sons Uday and Qusay leave Iraq, in an attempt to end the diplomatic Iraq disarmament crisis; see George W. Bush speech of March 17, 2003 (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/03/20030317-7.html). President Hussein refused.
The US military operations in this war were conducted under the name of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The UK military operations in this war were conducted under the name of Operation Telic. The Australian code name was Operation Falconer.
250,000 United States troops, with support from approximately 45,000 British, 2,000 Australian and 200 Polish combat forces, entered Iraq primarily through their staging area in Kuwait. Plans for an invasion force from the north were abandoned when Turkey refused the use of its territory for such purposes. Coalition forces also supported Iraqi Kurdish militia troops, estimated to number upwards of 50,000. Included in these forces were groups of Australian SAS and Commando Personnel who performed Recon and combat search and rescue mission along side American and British SF units. Polish SF units took control of an Oil Platform as part of their activity during the first 48 hours.
Events leading to the invasion
Since the end of the Persian Gulf War of 1991, relations between the United States and Iraq remained poor. Hopes that Saddam Hussein's government would be overthrown from within had never come to pass, and fears that he was developing weapons of mass destruction in violation of UN resolutions remained. In the absence of a Security Council consensus that Iraq had fully complied with the terms of the Persian Gulf War ceasefire, both the UN and the US enforced various economic sanctions against Iraq throughout the Clinton administration, and patrolled Iraqi airspace to enforce U.N. approved Iraqi no-fly zones. The United States also may have taken questionably legal steps to subvert the legal regime of "containment"—passing the "Iraq Liberation Act" in October 1998, which provided $97 million for groups trying to overthrow the Iraqi government, a clear violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a violation of international law; stating that only with "regime change" would the sanctions be lifted, in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 687; and using weapons inspections to commit espionage, the information from which was then used in targeting decisions during Operation Desert Fox.
The Republican Party's campaign platform in the U.S. presidential election, 2000 called for "full implementation" of the act and removal of Saddam Hussein with a focus on rebuilding a coalition, tougher sanctions, reinstating inspections, and support for the pro-democracy, opposition exile group, Iraqi National Congress.
In September 2000, in the Rebuilding America's Defenses (pg. 17) report  (http://newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf), Project for the New American Century, a largely Republican think tank, advocated that the United States shift to more ground based air forces to help contain the forces of Saddam Hussein so that "the demand for carrier presence in the region can be relaxed". Upon the election of George W. Bush as president, many concerned advocates of such a policy (including some of those who wrote the 2000 report) were included in the new administration's foreign policy circle. According to former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, an attack was planned since the inauguration, and the first security council meeting discussed plans on invasion of the country. One year later, on the day of the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is reported to have written in his notes, "best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time. Not only UBL [Osama bin Laden]". Shortly thereafter, the George W. Bush administration announced a War on Terrorism, accompanied by the doctrine of preemptive military action dubbed the Bush doctrine. At some point after September 11th, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the United States that Iraq was planning terrorist attacks in the US. Even so, "the September 11 commission released a staff report that said it found 'no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.'"  (http://edition.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/meast/06/18/saddam.terror/)
In 2002 the Iraq disarmament crisis arose primarily as a diplomatic situation. In October 2002, the United States Congress granted President Bush the authority to wage war against Iraq. The Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq was worded so as to encourage, but not require, UN Security Council approval for military action, although as a matter of international law the USA required Security Council approval for an invasion unless an attack by Iraq had been imminent--the US administration argued that there was a "growing" or "gathering", rather than imminent, threat.
In November 2002, United Nations actions regarding Iraq culminated in the unanimous passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and the resumption of weapons inspections. However, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan later stated that the subsequent invasion was an illegal violation of the UN Charter. Critics of the invasion claim that force was not authorized. The language of the resolution mentioned "serious consequences", and this use of language is generally not understood by Security Council members to include the use of force to depose the government. Both the U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, and the UK ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, in promoting Resolution 1441 on 8 November 2002, had given assurances that it provided no "automaticity", no "hidden triggers", no step to invasion without consultation of the Security Council; in the event such consultation was forestalled by the US and UK's abandonment of the Security Council procedure and their invasion of Iraq. Richard Perle, a senior member of the administration's Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, has expressed an opinion in November, 2003, that the invasion was against international law, but argued that it was justified. There is still much disagreement among international lawyers on whether prior resolutions permitted the invasion.
The United States also began preparations for an invasion of Iraq, with a host of diplomatic, public relations and military preparations.
Causes of the Invasion
See The UN Security Council and the Iraq war and Public relations preparations for 2003 invasion of Iraq for more details
In the wake of the September 11th attacks and the relative success of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Bush administration felt that it had sufficient military justification and public support in the United States for further operations against perceived threats in the Middle East. The relations between the United States and Iraq had never improved since 1991, and the two nations remained in a state of low-level conflict marked by American and British air-strikes, sanctions, and threats against Iraq.
Throughout 2002, the administration made it clear that removing Saddam Hussein from power was a major goal, although it offered to accept major changes in Iraqi military and foreign policy in lieu of this. Specifically, the stated justification for the invasion included Iraqi production and use of weapons of mass destruction, links with terrorist organizations and human rights violations in Iraq under the Saddam Hussein government, issues that are detailed below.
To that end, the stated goals of the invasion, according to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, were to:
- end the Saddam Hussein government
- help Iraq's transition to democratic self-rule
- find and eliminate weapons of mass destruction, weapons programs, and terrorists
- collect intelligence on networks of weapons of mass destruction and terrorists
- end sanctions and to deliver humanitarian support (According to Madeline Albright, half a million Iraqi children had died because of sanctions.)
- secure Iraq's oil fields and resources
Many staff and supporters within the Bush administration had other, claimed more ambitious goals for the war as well. Many probagated the claim that the war could act as a catalyst for democracy and peace in the Middle East, and that once Iraq became democratic and prosperous other nations would quickly follow suit, and thus the social environment that allowed terrorism to flourish would be eliminated. However, for diplomatic reasons these goals were played down in favor of justifications that Iraq represented a specific threat to the United States and to international law. Little evidence was presented actually linking the government of Iraq to al Qaeda (see below).
Opponents of the Iraq war disagreed with many of the arguments presented by the administration, attacking them variously as being untrue, inadequate to justify a pre-emptive war, or likely to have results different from the administration's intentions. Further, they asserted various alternate reasons for the invasion. Different groups asserted that the war was fought primarily
- to gain control over Iraq’s hydrocarbon reserves and in doing so maintain the U.S. dollar as the monopoly currency for the critical international oil market
- to ensure the US had military control over the region's hydrocarbon reserves as a lever to control other countries that depend on it
- to assure that the revenue from Iraqi oil would go primarily to American interests
- to lower the price of oil for American consumers
- to maintain the wartime popularity that the President enjoyed due to his response to the September 11 attacks (in contrast to his father whose wartime popularity faded when the electorate began to focus on the economy)
- to channel money to defense and construction interests
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Computer-generated image of an alleged mobile production facility for chemical weapons, presented by Colin Powell
at the UN Security Council
. Absence of more substantial proofs undermined the credibility of the speech on the international scene. Russian experts have always questioned the likelihood of such mobile facilities, which are extremely dangerous and difficult to manage.
Ultimately, the Iraq war was presented as largely being a case of removing banned weapons from Iraq. Administration officials, especially with the United States Department of State led by Colin Powell were eager to make the cause for war as universally acceptable to as many nations as possible. Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense stated in an interview on May 28, 2003 in Vanity Fair that 'For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction'.
Before the attack, the head UN weapons inspector in Iraq, Hans Blix, clearly stated that his teams had been unable to find any evidence of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons in Iraq, but that there were issues that had not yet been resolved. Retrospectively, some time after the attack, he doubts they existed  (http://www.randomhouse.com/pantheon/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=0375423028&view=excerpt),  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,895882,00.html). Former top American weapons inspector to Iraq, Scott Ritter, a long time advocate of more thorough weapons inspections previously and considered an anti-Iraq hardliner, said that he was now absolutely convinced Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction  (http://www.news.cornell.edu/Chronicle/03/4.3.03/Ritter_cover.html). In fact, most of the international community, including the US/UK intelligence community, came to some form of this conclusion or at least were ambivalent. The Bush administration, though, said they had additional, secret intelligence they could not yet make public which proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Iraq had such weapons.
No weapons of mass destruction were found by the Iraq Survey Group, headed by inspector David Kay. Kay, who resigned as the Bush administration's top weapons inspector in Iraq, said U.S. intelligence services owed President Bush an explanation for having concluded that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.  (http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/meast/01/25/sprj.nirq.kay/) However, the team claims to have found evidence of low-level WMD programs - a claim hotly disputed by many, with the Biosecurity Journal referring to the BW claims as a "worst case analysis"  (http://www.biosecurityjournal.com/PDFs/v1n403/p239_s.pdf)
Also included in the list of postwar justifications is Libya's agreement to abandon its WMD programs, but Flynt Leverett (former senior director for Middle Eastern Affairs at the NSC) and Martin S. Indyk (former Clinton administration official) argue that the agreement was a result of good-faith negotiations. Libya had agreed to surrender its programs in 1999.
The Iraq Survey Group under Bush-appointed inspector David Kay in October reported discovering the following key points: "We have not yet found stocks of weapons", difficulty in explaining why, clandestine laboratories suitable for "preserving BW expertise" which contained equipment subject to UN monitoring, a prison laboratory complex which Kay describes as "possibly used in human testing of BW agents", strains of bacteria kept in one scientists home (including a vial of live C. botulinum Okra B), 12-year old documents and small parts concerning uranium enrichment kept found in a scientist's home  (http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/21314/newsDate/27-Jun-2003/story.htm), partially declared UAVs, capability to produce a type of fuel useful for Scud missiles, a scientist who had drawn plans for how to make longer-range missiles  (http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/7648377.htm), and attempts to acquire missile technology from North Korea, and destroyed documents of unknown significance.  (http://www.cia.gov/cia/public_affairs/speeches/2003/david_kay_10022003.html). Most topics concerning biological agents are discussed as "BW-applicable" or "BW-capable"; the report mentions nothing that was being used in such a context. Chemical weapons are referred to in a similar fashion. The nuclear program, according to the report, had not done any work since 1991, but had attempted to retain scientists and documentation from it in case sanctions were ever dropped.
However, Kay himself has since stated (concerning Iraqi WMDs): "We were almost all wrong - and I certainly include myself here", and has since been in the media trying to explain why the US believed Iraq was a threat when it actually had minimal to no programs concerning mass destruction. He has stated that many intelligence analysts have come to him "in apology that the world we were finding was not the world that they had thought existed"  (http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2004-01-28-kay-testifies_x.htm). He has also directly contradicted since then much of the October report. David Kay is a Republican who donated money to both the RNC and the campaign of president George W. Bush. Before David Kay came out about this, many of his scientists had already done so.  (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/01/08/iraq/main592164.shtml).
Kay told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his oral report the following though: "Based on the intelligence that existed, I think it was reasonable to reach the conclusion that Iraq posed an imminent threat. Now that you know reality on the ground as opposed to what you estimated before, you may reach a different conclusion — although I must say I actually think what we learned during the inspection made Iraq a more dangerous place, potentially, than, in fact, we thought it was even before the war."
Dr. Kay's team concluded that Iraq had the production capacity and know-how to produce a great deal more chemical and biological weaponry when international economic sanctions were lifted, a policy change which was actively being sought by France, Germany and Russia. Kay also believes that a large but undetermined amount of the former Iraqi government's WMD program had been moved to Syria shortly before the 2003 invasion.  (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/01/25/wirq25.xml&sSheet=/news/2004/01/25/ixnewstop.html)
The current situation concerning Iraqi weapons of mass destruction seems similar to that portrayed by Hussein Kamel in 1995 and that of Imad Khadduri  (http://www.iraqsnuclearmirage.com/), that Iraq had almost completely destroyed its programs, but sought to retain as much knowledge and information that, should sanctions ever end, the programs would not have to start over from scratch.
After the fall of Baghdad, U.S. officials claimed that Iraqi officials were being harbored in Syria, and several high-ranking Iraqis have since been detained after being expelled from Syria.
When the debate about the justification resumed given that no weapons of mass destruction were found, it was argued that the invasion was however justified because of human rights abuses committed by Saddam Hussein. Critics raise the question why the US government did not do much to prevent or to punish those crimes when they happened but use them years later for a war initially explained with different reasons. The use of chemical weapons against Kurds in 1983 was known by US intelligence, Donald Rumsfeld, at the time presidential envoy of Ronald Reagan, however spoke of "his close relationship" with Saddam Hussein at that time and visited him. After the Persian Gulf War the US government encouraged rebellions by the Shiites but did not intervene when Hussein crushed the rebels.  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,866942,00.html)  (http://msnbc.msn.com/id/3294143/)
As of August, 2004 small quantities of chemically degraded mustard gas had been found in old munitions.
Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch has argued that the justification of "human rights" for the war in Iraq does not meet appropriate standards for the level of suffering that it causes. (http://hrw.org/wr2k4/3.htm#_Toc58744952)
The United Nations announced a report on March 2, 2004 from the weapons inspection teams stating that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction of any significance after 1994.  (http://usatoday.printthis.clickability.com/pt/cpt?action=cpt&title=USATODAY.com+-+U.N.%3A+Iraq+had+no+WMD+after+1994&expire=&urlID=9464809&fb=Y&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.usatoday.com%2Fnews%2Fworld%2Firaq%2F2004-03-02-un-wmd_x.htm&partnerID=1660)
On August 2, 2004 Pres. Bush stated "Knowing what I know today we still would have gone on into Iraq. He had the capability of making weapons of mass destruction. He had terrorists ties … the decision I made is the right decision. The world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power." (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5578293/)
On October 6, 2004 Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, appearing before the United States Senate Armed Services Committee announced that the group found no evidence that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had produced any weapons of mass destruction since 1991, when UN sanctions were imposed and, furthermore, were incapable of doing so. Though the report noted that Saddam had made it his primary goal to have sanctions lifted by whatever means neccesary, Saddam was effectively contained by these sanctions when they were in place. From the report: "[Saddam] wanted to end sanctions while preserving the capability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) when sanctions were lifted." (http://www.cia.gov/cia/reports/iraq_wmd_2004/)
However effective, UN sanctions fostered a growing humanitarian crisis in Iraq. International popular opinion seemed to shift in favour of lifting the sanctions and finding diplomatic alternatives such as targeted sanctions that might be as effective, but which would not inadvertently affect the Iraqi populace. Temporary solutions, such as the Oil for Food program, an easing of the sanctions on a controlled basis, had limited success in the face of corruption in the Iraqi government and UN officials involved in the program  (http://www.iic-offp.org/documents/InterimReportFeb2005.pdf). Essentially, harsh sanctions originally intended to be temporary could not be kept in place indefinitely. In addition, Saddam's persistent efforts to sway certain UN Security Council members with money diverted from the Oil for Food program meant that sanctions had likely reached the limit of their usefulness. (http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/sanction/iraq1/2002/paper.htm) (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/10/06/woil06.xml&sSheet=/portal/2004/10/06/ixportaltop.html)
On January 12, 2005, US military forces, having located no weapons of mass destruction, formally abandoned the search.
Links between the government of Iraq and terrorist organizations
An alleged link between al Qaeda and Iraq was often mentioned in the run-up to war. Before the invasion, journalists were generally skeptical; for example, one January 2003 article in the San Jose Mercury News said the claim "stretches the analysis of U.S. intelligence agencies to, and perhaps beyond, the limit."  (http://www.bayarea.com/mld/mercurynews/5055588.htm) After the invasion, in January of 2004, Secretary Powell stated "I have not seen smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection, but I think the possibility of such connections did exist, and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did."
Some of the evidence for a connection between the two turns out to have been misinformation coming from several sources, most notably an associate of Ahmed Chalabi who was given the code name "Curveball" and captured al Qaeda leader Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The Chalabi source has been thoroughly discredited, and the al Qaeda source has since recanted his story. Other al Qaeda leaders have claimed that there was no operational relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, and indeed that Osama bin Laden had forbidden such a relationship with the Iraqi leader, whom he considered an infidel.
There are, however, many al Qaeda operatives who have bolstered the current US administration's claims of collaboration between al Qaeda and the now deposed Iraqi government, as well as charges of cooperation made by the Clinton administration. Al Qaeda weapons smuggler Mohamed Mansour Shahab said in an interview in the New Yorker magazine that he had been directed by the Iraqi intelligence community to organize plan and carryout up to nine terrorist attacks against American targets in the Middle East, including an attack similar to the one carried out on the USS Cole.  (http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0403/p01s01-wome.html). The only member of the original plot to destroy the World Trade Center to escape US law enforcement officials, Abdul Rahman Yasin, fled to Baghdad shortly after the attacks in 1993.
Abbas al-Janabi, who served for 15 years as personal assistant to Uday Hussein before defecting to Britain in, has spoken frequently about his knowledge of collaboration between the former Iraqi government and al Qaeda. Al-Janabi said that he had learnt that Iraqi officials had visited Afghanistan and Sudan to strengthen ties with Al-Qaeda and he also claimed he knew of a facility near Baghdad where foreign fighters were trained and instructed by members of the Republican Guard and Mukhabarat.  (http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_15-7-2002_pg4_1). A facility matching al-Janabi’s description was captured by US Marines in Mid April of 2003  (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,84291,00.html)
Abdul Rahman Yasin was the only member of the al Qaeda cell that detonated the 1993 World Trade Center bomb to remain at large after the investigation into the bombing where he fled to Iraq. After major fighting ceased U.S. forces discovered a cache of documents in Tikrit, that show that the Iraqi government gave Yasin a house and monthly salary.  (http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2003-09-17-iraq-wtc_x.htm)
It was eventually shown that, while representatives of Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda had indeed met, an operational relationship was never realized and there was a deep sense of mistrust and dislike of one another. Osama Bin Laden was shown to view Iraq's ruling Ba'ath party as running contrary to his religion, calling it an "apostate regime." A British intelligence report  (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/2727471.stm) went so far as to say of Bin Laden "His aims are in ideological conflict with present day Iraq."
In 2004, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, also known as the 9/11 Commission, concluded that there was no credible evidence that Saddam Hussein had assisted al-Qaeda in preparing for or carrying out the 9/11 attacks.
Aside from the contentious allegations of Iraq's relationship with al Qaeda, the former government did have relationships with other militant organizations in the Middle East including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It is known that some $ 10-15M total was paid to the families of suicide bombers, presented as compensation for the demolition of their homes in Israeli collective punishment operations. Abu Abbas (associate with the PLO and the Achille Lauro hijacking) was found in Iraq, and had been wanted for quite some time. In August 2002, Abu Nidal (attacks in Italy and elsewhere) died in Baghdad from gunshot wounds while facing treason charges under Saddam's government.
Some documents indicate that the leadership was attempting to distance itself from Islamist militants fighters instead of working with them  (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3398677.stm), and that any connection between al Qaeda and Iraq is new. This was in relation to the rising insurgency in Iraq: Saddam was fearful that the foreign fighters might use this as an opportunity for themselves, rather than fight for Saddam to take control again. Many international jihadists have in fact begun operating in Iraq since the U.S. occupation began.
The Bush Administration also has cited links between Saddam Hussein's government and Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose organization Jama'at al-Tawhid wal Jihad (Monotheism and Holy War) has taken credit for kidnappings and beheadings directed against the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Zarqawi is rumored to have been treated in an Iraqi hospital after being wounded in Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion. Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Zarqawi had settled in Kurdish northern Iraq (an area not controlled by Saddam Hussein's government) where he joined, and may have led, the terrorist organization Ansar al-Islam, which was an enemy of the Ba'athist government. Nevertheless, U.S. officials continued to assert that Zarqawi constitutes an important link between Hussein's government and al Qaeda. A CIA report in early October 2004 "found no clear evidence of Iraq harbouring Abu Musab al-Zarqawi."  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1321538,00.html) Also, Zarqawi does not seem to have ever been, as some have asserted, an al Qaeda leader, and only pledged his allegiance to the al Qaeda organization in October 2004. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/890460.cms) This pledge came two days after his insurgent organization in Iraq was officially declared a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
On October 19, 2004, the International Institute for Strategic Studies published its annual report stating that the war in Iraq had actually increased the risk of terrorism against westerners in Arab countries (http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1331362,00.html) (http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2004-10/20/content_2113192.htm).
Events of the invasion
See 2003–2004 occupation of Iraq timeline for the White House statements and 2003 Iraq war timeline for a more detailed account of the invasion.
Prior to invasion, the United States and other coalition forces involved in the 1991 Persian Gulf War had been engaged in a low-level conflict with Iraq, enforcing the U.N. approved Iraqi no-fly zones. Iraqi air-defense installations were engaged on a fairly regular basis after repeatedly targeting American and British air patrols. In mid-2002, the U.S. began to change its response strategy, more carefully selecting targets in the southern part of the country in order to disrupt the military command structure in Iraq. A change in enforcement tactics was acknowledged at the time, but it was not made public that this was part of a plan known as Operation Southern Focus.
Before the invasion, many observers had expected a lengthy campaign of aerial bombing in advance of any ground action, taking as examples the Persian Gulf War or the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. In practice, U.S. plans envisioned simultaneous air and ground assaults to decapitate the Iraqi forces as fast as possible (see Shock and Awe), attempting to bypass Iraqi military units and cities in most cases. The assumption was that superior U.S. mobility and coordination would allow the U.S. to attack the heart of the Iraqi command structure and destroy it in a short time, and that this would minimize civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure. It was presumed that the elimination of the leadership would lead to the collapse of the army and the government, and that much of the population would support the invaders once the government had been weakened. Occupation of cities and attacks on peripheral military units were viewed as undesirable distractions.
Following Turkey's decision to deny any use of its territory, the U.S. was forced to abandon a planned simultaneous attack from north and south, so the primary bases for the invasion were in Kuwait and other Persian Gulf nations. One result of this was that one of the divisions intended for the invasion was forced to relocate and was unable to take part in the invasion until well into the war. Many observers felt that the U.S. devoted insufficient troops to the invasion, and that this (combined with the failure to occupy cities) put them at a major disadvantage in achieving security and order throughout the country when local support failed to meet expectations.
The invasion was swift, with the collapse of the Iraq government and the military of Iraq in about three weeks. The oil infrastructure of Iraq was rapidly secured with limited damage in that time. Securing the oil infrastructure was considered important. In the first Persian Gulf War, while retreating from Kuwait, the Iraqi army had set many oil wells on fire, in an attempt to disguise troop movements and to distract Coalition forces and also create many environmental problems.
In keeping with the rapid advance plan, the U.S. Third Division moved westward and then northward through the desert toward Baghdad, while the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and a UK expeditionary force moved northward through marshland. All forces avoided major cities except when necessary to capture river crossings over the Tigris and Euphrates. UK forces entered Iraq's second-largest city, Basra, only after two weeks of conflict, although their control of the city was limited. Preexisting electrical and water shortages continued through the conflict and looting began as Iraqi forces collapsed. While British forces began working with local Iraqi Police to enforce order, humanitarian aid began to arrive from ships landing in the port city of Umm Qasr and trucks entering the country through Kuwait.
After a rapid initial advance, the first major pause occurred in the vicinity of Hillah and Karbala, where U.S. leading elements, hampered by dust storms, met resistance from Iraqi troops and paused for some days for resupply before continuing toward Baghdad.
Fall of Baghdad (April 2003)
Three weeks into the invasion, U.S. forces moved into Baghdad. Initial plans were for armor units to surround the city and a street-to-street battle to commence using Airborne units. However, within days a "Thunder Run" of US tanks was launched to test Iraqi defenses, with about 30 tanks rushing from a staging base to the Baghdad airport. They met heavy resistance, including many suicide attacks, but launched another run two days later into the Palaces of Saddam Hussein, where they established a base. Within hours of the palace seizure, and television coverage of this spreading through Iraq, Iraqi resistance crumbled around the city. Iraqi government officials had either disappeared or had conceded defeat. On April 9, 2003, Baghdad was formally secured by US forces