|Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
BACKGROUND: With Iraq's surrender to allied forces in February, 1991, the second phase of the Gulf Wars ended, and Iraq and the United Nations entered a less active period militarily defined by the continuation of economic sanctions, periodic allied bombings in retaliation for Iraqi violations of northern and southern "no-fly zones" (inside of which Iraq had been prohibited from carrying out military operations), and a game of cat and mouse Iraq played with U.N. arms inspectors whose mission it was to verify that Iraq had disarmed itself of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, biological, and chemical). Iraq, then, effectively ceased to exist as a sovereign nation with its surrender in 1991.
This low level warfare lasted until 2002 when American President George W. Bush, following in his father's twelve year old footsteps, began rebuilding American forces in the Gulf in preparation for a new all-out campaign the aims of which were to rid Iraq once and for all of weapons of mass destruction and depose Saddam Hussein.
Chronology Gulf War III:
2001 On November 11, an Iraqi border patrol fired a mortar shell and several rounds of small arms fire across the border into Kuwait. A few days earlier, Iraqi Prime Minister Tariq Aziz had renewed Iraq's claim that Kuwait was part of Iraq.
According to a New York Times report (Oct. 2, 2002), Iraq in 2002 had the second largest oil reserves in OPEC (112.5 billion barrels, just behind Saudi Arabia at 259.3 billion barrels) and the U.S. was at that time the leading importer of Iraqi oil worldwide. Some speculated that American aims in Iraq included gaining a stronger foothold from which to better control the distribution of petroleum resources in the region. Since 1980 and the promulgation of the Carter Doctrine, the U.S. saw the Gulf as vital to its national interests. (also)
2002 In January, U.S. President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address employed the phrase "axis of evil" to characterize the threat to American security he saw coming from Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. The alignment of Iran and Iraq struck some observers as particularly curious given the fact that Iran and Iraq were bitter enemies of long-standing and that they had fought a war with one another in the 1980s that ended in a stalemate in 1988.
At the Arab Summit in Beirut in March, Iraq and Kuwait announced that they had reached an agreement resolving their disputes. The heads of the Iraqi and Kuwaiti delegations shook hands, and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia embraced the Iraqi delegate. The show of Arab unity on Iraq was intended to send a strong message to the United States that an American attack on Iraq in its self-declared "war on terror" would meet with strong, unified Arab opposition. (Reuters, March 28, 2002) The Summit issued a call for the lifting of U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq as punishment for its invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
According to a BBC report on July 29, 2002, deep divisions began to emerge by that date in the U.S. government over whether or not to attack Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein who was suspected of continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction. Pentagon officials led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld favored attacking while Secretary of State Colin Powell and military leaders did not. On May 1, 2005, news of a leaked British government memo dated July 23, 2002, the so called "Downing Street Memo," surfaced: the memo stated that the Bush administration had by that date determined that the United States would take military action in Iraq (BBC, June 17, 2005).
On August 2, Iraq invited U.N. weapons inspectors to return to the country (they had left in 1998 and had been barred from returning). In Congressional hearings in late July, lawmakers were told that installing a pro-Western democracy in Iraq would be very expensive and would require a lengthy deployment of American military forces (one to five years at $16 billion per year). (BBC, August 2, 2002)
On August 16, 2002, senior Republican leaders in the U.S. broke ranks publicly with President Bush over his announced intention to bring about a change of leadership in Iraq. These officials included Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft (see Scowcroft's Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2002 -- Text at The Forum for International Policy). The latter had served as National Security Adviser in the administration of the current President's father and laid the ground work for the 1991 phase of the Gulf Wars. (See also a column by Hani Nakshabandi which typified Arab responses to the buildup for war against Iraq.) Doubts were also beginning to grow (albeit more privately) among some staunch conservatives such as Nebraska's Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (see Joseph Lelyveld, "The Heartland Dissident," New York Times Magazine, Feb. 12, 2006).
Speaking at the United Nations on September 12, 2002, President Bush challenged the world body to force Iraq to comply with the pact it signed at the end of the second phase of the Gulf Wars and submit to disarmament, particularly with respect to weapons of mass destruction. The speech prompted member nations of the Security Council to begin undertaking measures to compel Iraq to readmit weapons inspectors. However, on September 16, Iraq took the world by surprise when it announce d it intend ed to fully comply with U.N. resolutions, i.e. that it would allow U.N. weapons inspectors back in the country (they had left Iraq in 1998 ahead of a limited bombing campaign). This initiative threw the Security Council into disarray. The U.S. and Great Britain continued to prepare for war against Iraq arguing that Iraq's step was just one more stall tactic, a method it had employed repeatedly throughout the nineties to derail U.N. attempts to force it to comply with terms Iraq had agreed to when it surrendered to allied forces in 1991. Russia and Arab nations, on the other hand, opposed military action against Iraq.
On September 20, 2002, President George Bush delivered a major policy statement that was quickly dubbed the "Bush Doctrine". It called for unilateral preemptive American strikes against nations found to be a threat to the United States (i.e. developing or stocking weapons of mass destruction). The Bush Doctrine followed the lines marked out by a lobby of conservative American leaders formed in 1997 known as the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) as well as the "Clean Break" report developed by an Israeli think tank in 1996. In spite of the President's rhetoric (and oblique criticism of it by people like former President Jimmy Carter), the United States continued for the time being to work multilaterally (through the United Nations) as it increased pressure on Saddam Hussein. In light of the Bush administration's pattern of shunning internationalism in favor of American interests alone (abandoning the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, withholding American support of the International Criminal court, and withdrawing from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, for example), relatively few nerves throughout the world were soothed.
On September 24, 2002, the British government issued a fifty page report claiming that Iraq had the capacity to launch chemical and biological weapons warheads within minutes and would have the capacity to launch nuclear weapons within one to five years (New York Times, Sept. 25, 2002). The accuracy and authenticity of the report and some of the documents the report cited were disputed. (see, for example, Seymour M. Hersh, "Who Lied to Whom?," New Yorker, March 31, 2003) After the war, doubts about the authenticity of allied intelligence reports generally were raised as months passed and no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were found. On July 7, 2003, the White House admitted that President Bush had cited incomplete and inaccurate intelligence when, in his Jan. 28, 2003 State of the Union speech, he claimed that Saddam had attempted to buy uranium in Africa. (for background, see Op-Ed piece by Joseph C. Wilson, IV, "What I Didn't Find in Africa," New York Times, July 6, 2003) See especially the Duelfer Report, Oct., 2004) This was not the first time false intelligence reports played a role in starting a Middle East war (see 1967 Arab-Israeli War).
On September 29, Iraq claimed that U.S. and British warplanes bombed the international airport in Basra.
On October 3, the BBC reported that international aid agencies were predicting a "humanitarian catastrophe" if a new war was launched against Iraq. Hundreds of thousands were vulnerable due to previous wars and as a result of sanctions imposed upon Iraq at the end of the 1991 phase of the Gulf Wars.
On October 10 by wide margins in the both the House and the Senate, the United States Congress approved a resolution giving President Bush the authority to make war on Iraq should he choose to do so.
On October 16, Iraq announced that Saddam Hussein had been elected to a new term as President by a margin of "100% to zero," which the lead editorial in the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat (October 17, 2002) branded "a sad, disgusting joke." Four days later on Oct. 20, Saddam emptied Iraq's prisons of tens of thousands of prisoners after declaring a general amnesty in celebration of his reelection.
On October 31, Iraq reopened its border with Saudi Arabia, a sign of a thaw in relations between the two countries. The border had been closed since the second phase of the Gulf Wars: 1990-91.
On November 8, 2002 following eight weeks of multilateral negotiations, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously (15-0, Resolution 1441) to give Iraq seven days to notify the U.N. that it intended to submit to disarmament relative to weapons of mass destruction. Under the plan, Iraq then had 30 days to tell the U.N. where its weapons were made and stored. Arms inspectors would begin their work within 45 days and were to report back to the Security Council within 60 days. The Council based its claims against Iraq on U.N. Resolution 687 of 1991. On Nov. 10, the Arab League voted to recommend that Iraq comply with the resolution. On November 27, U.N. weapons inspectors were back on the job in Iraq (for the first time since December,1998).
On December 19, a week after Iraq had submitted a 12,000 page document declaring itself free of weapons of mass destruction, the United States announced it had evidence that Iraq stood in "material breach" of its commitments under U.N. Resolution 1441: meaning that, according to the U.S., Iraq lied in its declaration. Two days later, U.S. and Kuwaiti forces conducted exercises along the Iraq-Kuwait border, the largest such maneuvers since the end of the 1991 phase of the Gulf Wars, and the U.S. announced it was sending 50,000 additional troops to the region.
On December 23, Iraq shot down an unmanned allied surveillance plane in the southern no-fly zone.
In December, the Kurds officially requested American assistance in putting down an extremist group, Ansar al-Islam ("Supporters of Islam") which had taken over portions of northern Iraq and imposed strict Islamic law. The group had links to al-Qaeda.
2003 On January 2, the U.S. announced a deployment of another 15,000 troops to the Gulf including the crack Third Infantry division, desert warfare specialists. In mid January, worldwide protests against the impending war took place, including the cities of Washington D.C. and San Francisco, against the backdrop of a Saudi initiative to encourage a palace coup in Baghdad in an effort to avert a war. There was open discussion of offering exile to Saddam and his family as a way out of the crisis. The American initiative to force Saddam to disarm was complicated by North Korea's decision in January, taking advantage of American preoccupation with Iraq, to use its own nuclear potential as a bargaining chip. North Korea declared it would no longer observe standing international agreements and took steps to restart its nuclear development program.
On January 21, two American contractors were shot in Kuwait City (one fatally) near the American military base, Camp Doha. The previous month, two Marines had been shot (one fatally).
On January 23, Russia and China joined France and Germany in saying they opposed an attack on Iraq before U.N. arms inspectors completed their work. But, on January 30, eight European countries signed a joint declaration of solidarity with the United States in its insistence that Saddam comply immediately with U.N. Resolution 1441 (Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Hungary, Poland, Denmark and the Czech Republic).
At the U.N. on January 27, 2003, chief arms inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed Elbaradei delivered reports indicating that Iraq had not cooperated fully with the mandated inspections and that evidence was lacking that Iraq was committed to disarming. In his State of the Union speech the following day (Jan. 28, 2003), President Bush repeated his threat to take unilateral action against Iraq should it fail to disarm, and Great Britain pronounced Iraq, relative to U.N. demands to cooperate with weapons inspectors, to be in "material breach" (diplomatic parlance for casus belli, an act that justified a declaration of war). Bush said there was evidence that Saddam had tried to purchase uranium from at least one African country (a claim that turned out to be false). Meanwhile, reaction from the Arab world ranged from condemnation of American and British bellicosity toward Iraq (especially in light of their tolerance for what they regarded as Israel's brutal treatment of Palestinians) to encouragement for Arabs to heed the crisis as a wake-up call to stop blaming the West for its problems and begin working toward genuine reform in their societies (Shafik Nazem al-Ghabra writing in al-Hayat, January 29, 2003, for example).
On February 5, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell appealed to the U.N. Security Council to authorize the use of force to bring Iraq into compliance with U.N. demands to disarm. Powell presented what he called "evidence" that Saddam continued to build up Iraq's potential to use weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq had ties to al-Qaeda. Powell was to admit publicly more than a year later (April 2, 2004) that his "evidence" (pictures of mobile laboratories in which the Iraqis were alleged to be making biological weapons) may not have been "solid" (BBC, April 3, 2004).
On February 14, U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed Elbaradei delivered their scheduled reports to the Security Council claiming that, while Iraqi cooperation had improved, Iraq still had not done enough to satisfy the demands of Resolution 1441. Meanwhile, deep divisions between the U.S. and European allies France, Germany, and Belgium threatened to derail American efforts to line up support for an attack on Iraq (one flash point was the current spat in NATO which pit the three European nations against the United States over U.S. demands to provide military equipment and aid for Turkey from which the U.S. planned to open a northern front in the attack on Iraq). For their part, the Turks also proved difficult bargaining partners for the U.S. They demanded $32 billion in aid as the price for allowing the Americans to install 40,000 troops and open a northern front into Iraq through Turkey. The U.S. offered $26 billion. The Turkish leadership, Islamist in its leanings since elections in the fall of 2002, was feeling pressure from its citizenry which was strongly against the impending war.
As the wrangling over Turkey was going on, on February 15 huge demonstrations against the impending war took place across Europe. Crowds were estimated at more than 1.5 million making it the biggest such event in European living memory. Demonstrations took place in more than 150 cities in the United States as well drawing hundreds of thousands. Catholic and Anglican bishops in the United Kingdom called for more time for weapons inspectors to do their work in Iraq. The sticking point for many was the perceived unilateralism with which the United States appeared to be pursuing its case against Iraq.
Typically, Arab nations had fallen to quarreling over the crisis amidst continuing efforts by leaders like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak to prop up the tottery myth of a single, unified "Arab nation." (see New York Times, February 20, 2003, A12). Writing in the lead editorial for al-Hayat on February 27, Abdul Wahab Badrikhan heaped scorn on the Arabs and their leaders for failing to unite in the face of what he (and many other Arabs) perceived as a seamlessly combined threat from the United States and Israel ("the rabbis of the Pentagon") both of whom were bent on redrawing the map of the Middle East. Writing in the same issue (Feb. 27), Khaled al-Haroub said that Secretary of State Powell's remarks in the U.S. Congress on February 6 made it clear that after invading Iraq, the U.S. intended to reshape the Middle East on its own terms and according to its own interests, altering the geography and the balance of power in the region as it saw fit. Arabs had to steel themselves to face what al-Haroub called "the new American century."
By mid February, American troop levels had reached 150,000, enough to launch an attack on Iraq.
On February 18, over-flights of Iraq by U-2 surveillance spy planes began, the government of Iraq having given in to this key U.N. demand the previous week in exchange for a U.N. pledge to give them 48 hours notice of the flights.
On February 21, Raghida Dergham, writing in the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat, argued that the only way to avert war in Iraq was for the current Iraqi regime to "end" (zawal).
On February 22, the U.N. handed Iraq an ultimatum: it had one week (until March 1) to begin destroying its supply of al-Samoud II missiles, including warheads and engine parts. The missiles had the capability to fly further than the 150 km (93 mile) limit set by the U.N. after the 1991 conflict. (BBC) Late on the 27th, Iraq notified the U.N. that it would comply with the order to destroy the missiles; this after the release of a draft of a report by U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix indicating that demands for Iraqi compliance with U.N. 1441 overall had produced "very limited results so far." (BBC)
On March 1, Iraq began destroying its al-Samoud II missiles while at an Arab summit at Sharm al-Sheikh, the United Arab Emirates officially called for the Iraqi leadership to go into exile as a means of averting war.
During the first two weeks of March, worldwide sentiment against the war continued to mount. On March 15, as it became clear the United Nations would not back an attack on Iraq (with France and Russia leading the opposition), thousands marched against U.S. threats to "go it alone" in cities across Europe such as Madrid, London, and Brussels as well in Washington D.C. On Monday, March 17, President Bush delivered what was taken as the final ultimatum prior to war: Saddam Hussein and his sons were told to leave Iraq within 48 hours or face military action from the United States.
On March 19, 2003 at 0234 GMT (two hours after the deadline imposed by President Bush), the United States launched forty Tomahawk missiles at and dropped 2,000 pound bombs upon what were called "targets of opportunity" in Baghdad (sites where it was believed senior Iraqi leaders were located). The Iraqis responded with an artillery attack on targets in Kuwait. 150,000 U.S. soldiers were poised along the border between Kuwait and Iraq awaiting orders to launch their invasion. The following day, March 20, U.S. and British troops pushed across the border, captured the southern port city of Umm Qasr (gateway to the southern oil fields), and began making their way northward toward Baghdad. British troops secured the Faw Peninsula. Thirty oil wells were reported to be burning. (BBC, March 20, 2003)
On March 22, U.S. bombers carried out massive raids on Baghdad as part of the U.S. "shock and awe" campaign aimed at encouraging a quick Iraqi capitulation. (By the 26th, Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff was admitting publicly that American air power had not produced the "shock and awe" initially hoped for. -- New York Times, Mar. 26, 2003)
Meanwhile, Arab governments began hoping for a speedy end to the war as demonstrations and riots against the war erupted across the Arab world (in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, and in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott) thanks to what some called the "al-Jazeera" effect: instant CNN style news footage of the events in Iraq.
By March 24, Iraqi resistance to American forces had stiffened significantly, especially after U.S. troops moved into Nasiriya. The first American prisoners of war had been captured and paraded in front of Iraqi TV cameras (prompting American complaints that the Iraqis were in violation of Geneva War conventions on the treatment of prisoners). In a "friendly fire incident," a British warplane was shot down by an American patriot missile killing two British airmen, and the U.S.101st Airborne Division suffered a "fragging" incident: an American Army sergeant tossed three grenades into a tent killing two officers and wounding fourteen others. In the battle areas, the most severe sandstorms in living memory hampered the advance, and a looming humanitarian emergency in Basra, where there was no water or electricity, moved U.S. officials to begin preparing the American public for a more difficult war than many had anticipated. Meanwhile, the Arab League (all except Kuwait) voted to condemn what it called American and British "aggression" against Iraq.
On March 26, in the biggest battle of the war to date near Najaf, hundreds of Iraqi soldiers were killed by American forces. No American deaths were reported. The same day, Iraq accused the U.S. of an artillery attack on the Shaab District, a civilian shopping area in northern Baghdad, after ordinance exploded there killing 14 Iraqis and wounding 30. The U.S. reacted cautiously indicating it was not clear whether Iraqi or U.S. weaponry were behind this attack and another which occurred two days later in which civilians were killed.
On March 27, Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair sharply condemned Iraq for executing two British POWs whose bodies were then displayed on al-Jazeera TV.
Over the weekend of March 29, criticism of U.S. cabinet war planning (even from within the U.S. armed forces) mounted steadily. Domestic and world opinion continued to grow against the war. In the first such incident of the war, an Iraqi suicide bomber killed four American soldiers in Najaf on the 29th. On March 31, U.S. soldiers killed seven Iraqi women and children when the car the Iraqis were in tried to run a checkpoint.
On April 1, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal called for Saddam to step down as a "sacrifice for his country," and also called for a ceasefire to give diplomacy another chance. Also on April 1, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard B. Myers reacted angrily to published remarks by some American field commanders in Iraq criticizing the Pentagon's war plan, which had called for using significantly fewer troops than some thought necessary to do the job. The critics argued that the pared down force Rumsfeld sent to Iraq combined with unexpectedly strong Iraqi resistance had slowed down the attack and left American supply lines vulnerable. Some began blaming relationship problems in the Pentagon born of Rumsfeld's contempt for military brass promoted to top Pentagon jobs during the Clinton era. The lines were drawn between, on the one hand, Rumsfeld, Myers, and Army General Tommy Franks (the head of the U.S. Central Command), and on the other hand, military planners and some of their immediate superiors.
On April 3, U.S. forces captured Baghdad International Airport (its new name, changed from "Saddam International Airport"). The same day at a checkpoint northwest of Baghdad three coalition soldiers and two suicide bombers died when one of the bombers, apparently a pregnant woman, beckoned the soldiers to approach and, when they drew close enough, detonated the explosives.
By April 5, U.S. forces were reported to have entered Baghdad and to have secured the main road to Tikrit, Saddam's birthplace. By April 9, the Pentagon was saying that American warplanes were flying anywhere in Iraqi air space without resistance, and American troops had secured most parts of Baghdad. Looting by local citizens was said to be widespread in the absence of visible civilian authority. U.S. Marines helped Baghdad residents pull down giant statues of Saddam. The next day, Kirkuk fell to coalition forces and Mosul to Kurdish forces. By April 11, looting and disorder were reported in Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Mosul. In Mosul, residents looted the central bank carrying out piles of the nearly worthless paper money. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was unperturbed in a Defense Department briefing, describing the scenes as "untidiness" that often comes in the initial phases of liberations. (continued)