“Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict”, said the then US President George Bush in a press conference on March 17, 2003. It was Bush’s final warning to Saddam Hussien, the man who was in power for almost thirty years in Iraq. Saddam denied it to leave Iraq, and what came next was a full-blown invasion of the gulf nation.
Today, March 19, marks 20 years since the US and its allies invaded Iraq. It resulted in significant death, destruction, and disruption, which had a lasting impact on the country and the region.
The exact number of casualties which happened after the invasion and the war that followed is difficult to determine, but estimates range from hundreds of thousands to over one million people. The United States spent over $2 trillion on the war.
Now, before delving deep into the details of the invasion and how it shaped (rather destroyed) Iraq, let’s look into some numbers to understand the severity of the war:
During the 1990s, Iraq was facing strong international opposition to the Saddam Hussein regime since it began the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The invasion was stopped by the international community as in 1991 a military coalition led by the United States started the Gulf War to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
Following the Gulf War, the United States and its allies attempted to restrict Saddam Hussein through a containment policy.
What was the containment policy? The policy entailed numerous UN Security Council economic sanctions; the enforcement of Iraqi no-fly zones declared by the US and the UK to protect the minorities (like the Kurds) in Iraq.
And soon, the UN, along with the International Atomic Energy Agency, started inspections in Iraq to ensure that Iraq destroyed its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and facilities. The international community was majorly concerned with what it called the ‘weapons of mass destruction’.
The US and its allies believed that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed weapons of mass destruction, which they assumed could be a huge threat to the world. In fact, the primary justification cited by the US government for the invasion was the 'belief'' that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
The Bush administration claimed that Iraq was actively developing nuclear weapons and that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the US and its allies.
Later, it turned out that Iraq actually didn’t possess any WMD.
Another major reason was the attack of 9/11. It was also a factor that pushed the Bush administration to invade Iraq. But, you must be wondering what has Iraq to do with 9/11? It was related to Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
Well, you are certainly right.
However, Bush and his administration strongly believed that Saddam Hussein was harbouring and supporting terrorists, including Al Qaeda, and suggested that he may have been involved in the 9/11 attacks. Despite there being no evidence of a direct link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda or the 9/11 attacks, the US argued that the potential threat was too great to ignore.
The Bush administration also saw the invasion of Iraq as an opportunity to remove Saddam Hussein from power and to promote democracy and stability in the region. They argued that Hussein was a brutal dictator who had committed human rights abuses against his own people, and that the world would be safer without him in charge.
During Saddam Hussein's reign in Iraq, severe human rights violations were committed through secret police, state terrorism, torture, mass murder, genocide, and chemical warfare. The government also committed crimes of aggression through the war against Iran and during the invasion of Kuwait.
Estimates suggest at least 2,50,000 to 2,90,000 deaths and disappearances occurred due to repression during Saddam's regime, with widespread imprisonment and torture as reported by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Check out photos from Iraq's biggest tourist attraction, a museum, Red Security, dedicated to exposing torture and injustice under Saddam's reign.
Another reason that lead to the invasion, but isn't talked about much, is the strategic interest that The US had for invading Iraq. Experts believed that it had long been interested in securing and projecting power in the Middle East and accessing Iraq’s oil reserves. The invasion of Iraq was seen as a way to consolidate US influence in the region and to prevent any potential challengers from emerging from the Middle East.
So, on March 19, The US-led coalition (the US, the UK, Australia and Poland) sent 160,000 troops into Iraq during the initial invasion phase, which lasted from 19 March to May 1, 2003.
On May 1, 2003, George Bush gave his famous Mission Accomplished speech standing on a podium. This speech was given by Bush six weeks after the invasion, before a White House-produced banner that said "Mission Accomplished".
Reading from a prepared text, he said:
Although Bush went on to say that "Our mission continues" and "We have difficult work to do in Iraq”, his words implied that the Iraq War was over and America had won.
See the full speech here:
This speech marked the end of the first phase, but it continued, as the troops continued their search for weapons of mass destruction (which were never found) and well also, Saddam Hussein.
The invasion continued, and meanwhile, Saddam Hussein was captured during Operation Red Dawn in December 2003, and was executed three years later.
However, if you think the invasion of the troops ended after Saddam was captured and the search for WMDs (January 24, 2004) was stopped, you are wrong. It continued till 2011.
In June 2004, the Iraqi interim government was established by the US, which later helped in developing a constitution in Iraq. However, due to extreme levels of corruption in the government, it was actually never a help for the common citizens, a problem that Iraqis still face.
But the all efforts went in vain when the US left Iraq. Here's what happened:
To sum up, after the US withdrew its troops from Iraq in December 2011, here’s what happened in the country:
Overall, the US withdrawal from Iraq was followed by a period of instability and conflict, including the rise of ISIS, ongoing political challenges, and a significant humanitarian crisis.
Today, 20 years after the US invasion, every person in Iraq is still fighting a war to survive in strenuous conditions of poverty, unemployment, malnutrition and of course violence.