The war in Iraq began March 19, 2003 under the presidency of George W. Bush. President Bush had given Iraq an ultimatum two days earlier that demanded that Saddam Hussein resign and leave Iraq. When Saddam ignored the order, U.S. and British forces launched air attacks on Iraqi targets and within days invaded neighboring Kuwait.

When the Gulf War ended in 1991, Iraq came under United Nations sanctions against developing biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Inspectors were supposed to have access to Iraqi facilities, but inspection was frequently thwarted. The destruction of the World Trade Center in September of 2001 and the killing of almost 3,000 people on U.S. soil helped to raise sentiment against Iraq when President Bush identified Iraq, Iran and North Korea as part of an “axis of evil.” The UN Security Council gave Iraq one last opportunity to comply with disarmament regulations on November 8, 2002. Its Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission failed to find weapons of mass destruction after 700 inspections between that November and March of the following year, however.

When the US and the UK submitted a draft resolution to the UN in February of 2003, stating that Iraq had missed its final opportunity to disarm peacefully, the resolution was opposed by France, Russia and Germany.  The resolution was abandoned, but Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush – with the backing of Congress – were intent on invading Iraq.

When Saddam ignored Bush’s ultimatum, the invasion began. It was called ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom” and began with a “shock and awe” campaign of aerial bombardment which was televised to viewers in the US. Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from U.S. fighter-bombers and warships anchored in the Persian Gulf.

Coalition troops launched air and amphibious assaults on the Al-Faw peninsula to secure the oil fields there and the important ports. The US Marine Corps’ 15th Marine Expeditionary Unite attacked the port of Umm Qasr, while the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force moved along Highway 1 through the center of the country. The heavy armor of the US 3rd Infantry Division moved westward and then northward through the western desert toward Baghdad.

By April 9th the capital city of Baghdad had fallen and Saddam’s sons were killed. Saddam himself went into hiding. Coalition forces had topped his regime and captured Iraq’s major cities within three weeks.

On May 1, Bush declared an end to major combat and declared that the tide had turned in the war on terror.  A provisional government was set up and the Iraqi army disbanded. The country was plagued by guerilla warfare and fighting between militias of the rival Islamic Sunni and Shiite sects. The country was severely destabilized. Worse, an intensive search failed to turn up any weapons of mass destruction. 

Saddam Hussein was found hiding in a hole nine miles outside his hometown of Tikrit. He was tried for crimes against his people in October of 2005. He was found guilty and executed by hanging on December 30, 2006.

The conflict did not end with the overthrow of Saddam. It continued for the next ten years as an insurgency supported by al-Qaeda and Iran arose to oppose the occupying forces and the new government. The US formally withdrew all combat troops from Iraq in December of 2011. Unfortunately, a new power vacuum was created which led to the rise of ISIS.

The Iraq War had caused over a hundred thousand civilian deaths. Over 16,000 Iraqi military and police were killed, and about 27,000 Iraqi insurgents. Total US armed forces deaths were 4,424, with 31, 952 wounded in action. The economic cost of the Iraq War was $1.06 trillion.