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The Iraq War (Arabic: حرب العراق, romanized: ḥarb ālʿirāq) was a protracted armed conflict in Iraq from 2003 to 2011. It began with the invasion of Iraq by the United States-led coalition that overthrew the Ba'athist government of Saddam Hussein. The conflict continued for much of the next decade as an insurgency emerged to oppose the coalition forces and the post-invasion Iraqi government. US troops were officially withdrawn in 2011. The United States became re-involved in 2014 at the head of a new coalition, and the insurgency and many dimensions of the armed conflict are ongoing. The invasion occurred as part of the George W. Bush administration's war on terror following the September 11 attacks.
حرب العراق (Arabic)
|Part of the Iraq conflict and the war on terror
Clockwise from top: US troops at Uday and Qusay Hussein's hideout; insurgents in northern Iraq; the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Firdos Square
Iraqi National Congress
After Invasion (2003–11)
After Invasion (2003–11)
|Commanders and leaders
Coalition forces (2004–09)
176,000 at peak
United States Forces – Iraq (2010–11)
112,000 at activation
Security contractors 6,000–7,000 (estimate)
Iraqi security forces
805,269 (military and paramilitary: 578,269,[page needed] police: 227,000)
≈400,000 (Kurdish Border Guard: 30,000, Peshmerga 75,000)
Islamic State of Iraq
Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order
|Casualties and losses
Iraqi security forces (post-Saddam)
Total wounded: 117,961
Iraqi combatant dead (invasion period): 7,600–45,000
Killed: 26,544+ (2003–11)
(4,000 foreign fighters killed by Sep. 2006)
Detainees: 12,000 (Iraqi-held, in 2010 only)
119,752 insurgents arrested (2003–2007)
Total dead: 34,144–71,544
For more information see Casualties of the Iraq War.
* "injured, diseased, or other medical": required medical air transport. UK number includes "aeromed evacuations".
** Total excess deaths include all additional deaths due to increased lawlessness, degraded infrastructure, poorer healthcare, etc.
*** Violent deaths only – does not include excess deaths due to increased lawlessness, poorer healthcare, etc.
**** Sukkariyeh, Syria were also affected (2008 Abu Kamal raid).
In October 2002, the United States Congress passed a joint resolution which granted Bush the power to use military force against the Iraqi government. The Iraq War officially began on 20 March 2003, when the US, joined by the United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland, launched a "shock and awe" bombing campaign. Shortly following the bombing campaign, US-led forces launched a ground invasion of Iraq. Iraqi forces were quickly overwhelmed as coalition forces swept through the country. The invasion led to the collapse of the Ba'athist government; Saddam Hussein was captured during Operation Red Dawn in December of that same year and executed three years later. The power vacuum following Saddam's demise, and mismanagement by the Coalition Provisional Authority, led to widespread civil war between Shias and Sunnis, as well as a lengthy insurgency against coalition forces. The United States responded with a build-up of 170,000 troops in 2007. This build-up gave greater control to Iraq's government and military while also giving the United States a greater say in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq. In 2008, President Bush agreed to a withdrawal of all US combat troops from Iraq. The withdrawal was completed under Barack Obama in December 2011.
The United States based most of its rationale for the invasion on claims that Iraq had a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program and posed a threat to the United States and its allies. In addition to claiming that Saddam Hussein was supporting al-Qaeda, US government also alleged that Al-Qaeda was covertly co-operating with Iraq to build weapons of mass destruction. However, in 2004 the 9/11 Commission concluded there was no evidence of any relationship between Saddam's regime and al-Qaeda. No stockpiles of WMDs or active WMD program were ever found in Iraq. Bush administration officials made numerous claims about a purported Saddam–al-Qaeda relationship and WMDs that were based on insufficient evidence rejected by intelligence officials. The rationale for the Iraq war faced heavy criticism both domestically and internationally. Kofi Annan, then the Secretary-General of the United Nations, called the invasion illegal under international law, as it violated the UN Charter. The 2016 Chilcot Report, a British inquiry into the United Kingdom's decision to go to war, concluded that not every peaceful alternative had been examined, that the UK and US had undermined the United Nations Security Council in the process of declaring war, that the process of identification for a legal basis of war was "far from satisfactory", and that, these conclusions taken together, the war was unnecessary. When interrogated by the FBI, Saddam Hussein confirmed that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction prior to the US invasion, although the Iraq Survey Group did find that Saddam had the aim of WMD proliferation and maintained the laboratories and scientists necessary for WMD development.
In 2005, Iraq held multi-party elections. Nouri al-Maliki became Prime Minister in 2006 and remained in office until 2014. The al-Maliki government enacted policies that alienated the country's previously dominant Sunni minority and worsened sectarian tensions.
The war killed an estimated 150,000 to 1,033,000 people, including more than 100,000 civilians (see estimates below). Most died during the initial insurgency and civil conflicts. The 2013–2017 War in Iraq, which is considered a domino effect of the invasion and occupation, caused at least 155,000 deaths and internally displaced more than 3.3 million Iraqis.
The war hurt the United States' international reputation as well as Bush's domestic popularity and public image. The war reduced Blair's popularity, leading to his resignation in 2007.
Strong international opposition to the Saddam Hussein regime began following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The international community condemned the invasion, and in 1991 a military coalition led by the United States launched the Gulf War to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
Following the Gulf War, the US and its allies tried to keep Saddam Hussein in check with a policy of containment. This policy involved numerous economic sanctions by the UN Security Council; the enforcement of Iraqi no-fly zones declared by the US and the UK to protect the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan and Shias in the south from aerial attacks by the Iraqi government, and ongoing inspections to ensure Iraq's compliance with United Nations resolutions concerning Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
The inspections were carried out by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). UNSCOM, in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, worked to ensure that Iraq destroyed its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and facilities.
In the decade following the Gulf War, the United Nations passed 16 Security Council resolutions calling for the complete elimination of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Member states communicated their frustration over the years that Iraq was impeding the work of the special commission and failing to take seriously its disarmament obligations. Iraqi officials harassed the inspectors and obstructed their work, and in August 1998, the Iraqi government suspended cooperation with the inspectors completely, alleging that the inspectors were spying for the US. The spying allegations were later substantiated.
In October 1998, removing the Iraqi government became official US foreign policy with the enactment of the Iraq Liberation Act. The act provided $97 million for Iraqi "democratic opposition organizations" to "establish a program to support a transition to democracy in Iraq." This legislation contrasted with the terms set out in United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, which focused on weapons and weapons programs and made no mention of regime change.
One month after the passage of the Iraq Liberation Act, the US and UK launched a bombardment campaign of Iraq called Operation Desert Fox. The campaign's express rationale was to hamper Saddam Hussein's government's ability to produce chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, but US intelligence personnel also hoped it would help weaken Saddam's grip on power.
Following the election of George W. Bush as president in 2000, the US moved towards a more aggressive Iraq policy. The Republican Party's campaign platform in the 2000 election called for "full implementation" of the Iraq Liberation Act as "a starting point" in a plan to "remove" Saddam.
Little formal movement towards an invasion occurred until the September 11 attacks although plans were drafted and meetings were held from the first days of his administration.
Following 9/11, the Bush administration's national security team actively debated an invasion of Iraq. On the day of the attacks, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asked his aides for: "best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit Saddam Hussein at the same time. Not only Osama bin Laden." President Bush spoke with Rumsfeld on 21 November and instructed him to conduct a confidential review of OPLAN 1003, the war plan for invading Iraq. Rumsfeld met with General Tommy Franks, the commander of US Central Command, on 27 November to go over the plans. A record of the meeting includes the question "How start?", listing multiple possible justifications for a US–Iraq War. The rationale for invading Iraq as a response to 9/11 has been refuted, as there was no cooperation between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.
President Bush began laying the public groundwork for an invasion of Iraq in January 2002 State of the Union address, calling Iraq a member of the Axis of Evil, and saying "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." Bush said this and made many other dire allegations about the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction despite the fact that the Bush administration knew that Iraq had no nuclear weapons and had no information about whether Iraq had biological weapons. He began formally making his case to the international community for an invasion of Iraq in his 12 September 2002 address to the UN Security Council. However, a 5 September 2002 report from Major General Glen Shaffer revealed that the Joint Chiefs of Staff's J2 Intelligence Directorate had concluded that the United States' knowledge on different aspects of the Iraqi WMD program ranged from essentially zero to about 75%, and that knowledge was particularly weak on aspects of a possible nuclear weapons program: "Our knowledge of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program is based largely – perhaps 90% – on analysis of imprecise intelligence," they concluded. "Our assessments rely heavily on analytic assumptions and judgment rather than hard evidence. The evidentiary base is particularly sparse for Iraqi nuclear programs." Similarly, the British government found no evidence that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq posed no threat to the West, a conclusion British diplomats shared with the US government.
Key US allies in NATO, such as the United Kingdom, agreed with the US actions, while France and Germany were critical of plans to invade Iraq, arguing instead for continued diplomacy and weapons inspections. After considerable debate, the UN Security Council adopted a compromise resolution, UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which authorized the resumption of weapons inspections and promised "serious consequences" for non-compliance. Security Council members France and Russia made clear that they did not consider these consequences to include the use of force to overthrow the Iraqi government. The US and UK ambassadors to the UN publicly confirmed this reading of the resolution.
Resolution 1441 set up inspections by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Saddam accepted the resolution on 13 November and inspectors returned to Iraq under the direction of UNMOVIC chairman Hans Blix and IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei. As of February 2003, the IAEA "found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq"; the IAEA concluded that certain items which could have been used in nuclear enrichment centrifuges, such as aluminum tubes, were in fact intended for other uses. In March 2003, Blix said progress had been made in inspections, and no evidence of WMD had been found.
In October 2002, the US Congress passed the "Iraq Resolution", which authorized the President to "use any means necessary" against Iraq. Americans polled in January 2003 widely favored further diplomacy over an invasion. Later that year, however, Americans began to agree with Bush's plan (see popular opinion in the United States on the invasion of Iraq). The US government engaged in an elaborate domestic public relations campaign to promote the war to its citizens. Americans overwhelmingly believed Saddam did have weapons of mass destruction: 85% said so, even though the inspectors had not uncovered those weapons. By February 2003, 64% of Americans supported taking military action to remove Saddam from power.
On 5 February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the UN to present evidence that Iraq was hiding unconventional weapons. However, despite warnings from the German Federal Intelligence Service and the British Secret Intelligence Service that the source was untrustworthy, Powell's presentation included information based on the claims of Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed "Curveball", an Iraqi emigrant living in Germany who also later admitted that his claims had been false. Powell also claimed that Iraq was covertly harbouring and supporting al-Qaeda networks. Additionally, Powell alleged that al-Qaeda was attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction from Iraq:
"Al-Qaida continues to have a deep interest in acquiring weapons of mass destruction. As with the story of Zarqawi and his network, I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al-Qaida. Fortunately, this operative is now detained and he has told his story. ... The support that this detainee describes included Iraq offering chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qaida associates beginning in December 2000. He says that a militant known as Abdallah al-Iraqi had been sent to Iraq several times between 1997 and 2000 for help in acquiring poisons and gasses. Abdallah al-Iraqi characterized the relationship he forged with Iraqi officials as successful."
As a follow-up to Powell's presentation, the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, Italy, Australia, Denmark, Japan, and Spain proposed a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, but NATO members like Canada, France, and Germany, together with Russia, strongly urged continued diplomacy. Facing a losing vote as well as a likely veto from France and Russia, the US, the UK, Poland, Spain, Denmark, Italy, Japan, and Australia eventually withdrew their resolution.
In March 2003, the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, Australia, Spain, Denmark, and Italy began preparing for the invasion of Iraq with a host of public relations and military moves. In an address to the nation on 17 March 2003, Bush demanded that Saddam and his two sons, Uday and Qusay, surrender and leave Iraq, giving them a 48-hour deadline.
The UK House of Commons held a debate on going to war on 18 March 2003 where the government motion was approved 412 to 149. The vote was a key moment in the history of the Blair government, as the number of government MPs who rebelled against the vote was the greatest since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. Three government ministers resigned in protest at the war, John Denham, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the then Leader of the House of Commons Robin Cook.
Opposition to invasion
In October 2002, former US President Bill Clinton warned about the possible dangers of pre-emptive military action against Iraq. Speaking in the UK at a Labour Party conference he said: "As a preemptive action today, however well-justified, may come back with unwelcome consequences in the future... I don't care how precise your bombs and your weapons are when you set them off, innocent people will die." Of 209 House Democrats in Congress, 126 voted against the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002, although 29 of 50 Democrats in the Senate voted in favor of it. Only one Republican Senator, Lincoln Chafee, voted against it. The Senate's lone Independent, Jim Jeffords, voted against it. Retired US Marine, former Navy Secretary and future US senator Jim Webb wrote shortly before the vote, "Those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade."
In the same period, Pope John Paul II publicly condemned the military intervention. During a private meeting, he also said directly to George W. Bush: "Mr. President, you know my opinion about the war in Iraq. Let's talk about something else. Every violence, against one or a million, is a blasphemy addressed to the image and likeness of God."
On 20 January 2003, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin declared "we believe that military intervention would be the worst solution". Meanwhile, anti-war groups across the world organized public protests. According to French academic Dominique Reynié, between 3 January and 12 April 2003, 36 million people across the globe took part in almost 3,000 protests against the war in Iraq, with demonstrations on 15 February 2003 being the largest. Nelson Mandela voiced his opposition in late January, stating "All that (Mr. Bush) wants is Iraqi oil," and questioning if Bush deliberately undermined the U.N. "because the secretary-general of the United Nations [was] a black man".
In February 2003, the US Army's top general, Eric Shinseki, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it would take "several hundred thousand soldiers" to secure Iraq. Two days later, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the post-war troop commitment would be less than the number of troops required to win the war, and that "the idea that it would take several hundred thousand US forces is far from the mark." Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Shinseki's estimate was "way off the mark," because other countries would take part in an occupying force.
Germany's Foreign Secretary Joschka Fischer, although having been in favor of stationing German troops in Afghanistan, advised Federal Chancellor Schröder not to join the war in Iraq. Fischer famously confronted United States Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the 39th Munich Security Conference in 2003 on the secretary's purported evidence for Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction: "Excuse me, I am not convinced!" Fischer also cautioned the United States about biting off more than it could chew by assuming that democracy would easily take root post-invasion; "You're going to have to occupy Iraq for years and years, the idea that democracy will suddenly blossom is something that I can't share. … Are Americans ready for this?"
There were serious legal questions surrounding the launching of the war against Iraq and the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war in general. On 16 September 2004, Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, said of the invasion "...was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view, from the Charter point of view, it was illegal."