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The Gulf Wars

Iraq and Iran, 1980-1988
Iraq Occupies Kuwait, 1990-1991
Toppling Saddam, 2002-03

Coalition Provisional Authority Rule, 2003-04
 "Sovereign" Iraq, 2004-2005
Civil War in Iraq, 2006-2007
The New Iraq, 2008-2009

Benchmarks in the History of Modern Iraq

BBC Iraq pages
BBC Profile of Iraqi Insurgents
Map of Iraq (Univ. Texas)

2003  On April 9, 2003, Baghdad fell to American forces as the U.S. took over Iraq.  Almost immediately, it became apparent that American planning for what was to happen next was badly flawed.  Rampant looting ensued and American troops did virtually nothing to stop it.  George Packer writes about those early days: "The gutted buildings, the lost equipment, the destroyed records, the damaged infrastructure, would continue to haunt almost every aspect of the reconstruction. But the physical damage was less catastrophic than those effects which couldn't be quantified.  Iraqis' first experience of freedom was chaos and violence; the arrival of the Americans brought an end to the certainty of political terror and at the same time unleashed new, less certain fears." (George Packer, The Assassins' Gate: American in Iraq (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2005), 139).  

Reaction to the American takeover of Iraq on Arab editorial pages was fearful. At least one writer (Maher Uthman in al-Hayat, April 11, 2003) began referring to the new relationship between the United States and Great Britain on the one hand and Iraq on the other as a "protectorate" (Ar. mahmiya), a highly charged term considering the history of colonial Britain's protectorates over many Middle Eastern countries including Iraq, but also Egypt, Sudan, and Jordan (click for more on colonialism). Other writers began using the word "occupation" (Ar. ihtilal) conjuring up parallels to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.  The common worry among Arabs was that their world seemed to be entering yet another era of aggressive colonization by the West with the key players this time being Britain (again), the United States, and Israel. 

The situation on the ground was complicated by the presence in Iraq of hundreds of non-Iraqi Arab mujahideen ("jihad fighters"), many from neighboring Syria, who seemed bent on fighting on against the United States even though the war by this point was being declared over for all intents and purposes (especially after the fall of Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, almost without a fight on April 14). 

On April 16, President Bush called for an end to economic sanctions against Iraq imposed during the 1990-91 phase of the Gulf Wars.  On the 17th, the Bechtel Group (an American engineering firm with close ties to the Bush administration) was awarded an initial contract of  $34.6 million to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, with projected future contracts totaling $680 million over the next 18 months, the bill to be paid jointly out of Iraqi oil revenues and the pockets of American taxpayers. 

On April 18, a large joint demonstration of Sunni ("orthodox") Muslims and Shia Muslims took place in Baghdad after Friday prayers in the sunni Abu Hanafi Mosque.  The crowd shouted, "No to Saddam, no to Americans!," called for the creation of an Islamic state in Iraq, and called on American troops to leave Iraq "before we kick you out." (New York Times, April 19, 2003) (Sunnis were a minority in Iraq. Sixty four percent of all Iraqis were Shiites.) 

On April 21, 2003, retired American General Jay Garner arrived in Baghdad to take up his duties as head of the interim Iraqi government, or "Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance," as it was formally called (ORHA), amidst a demonstration by 4,000 Shiites against American occupation and against the detention of one of their leaders, Sheikh Muhammad al-Fartusi.  Also on April 21, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld denied that the U.S. aimed to set up permanent military bases in Iraq (New York Times, Apr. 22, 2003).  Rumsfeld was responding to an article in the April 20 New York Times that cited senior U.S. administration officials (speaking anonymously) who indicated that the Americans were indeed seeking a long term military relationship with Iraq that would include perhaps up to four permanent bases there already being used to deliver humanitarian aid.  Permanent bases in the Gulf  had been a clearly and openly enunciated goal of the U.S. administration during the 1990-91 phase of the Gulf Wars. On April 27, the U.S. announced it was moving air operations from Prince Sultan Air Base (near Riyadh) to the al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar.   

On April 27, twelve Iraqis were killed after someone fired a flare into an ammunition dump in Baghdad which was being guarded by U.S. troops.  Angry Iraqis blamed the Americans for not providing adequate protection.  On April 29, at least 13 Iraqis were killed by U.S. troops who fired on anti-American demonstrators in the Sunni, pro-Saddam town of Fallujah west of Baghdad.  There were conflicting reports as to whether the soldiers had been fired upon initially by the protesters. Anti-American disturbances continued in Fallujah throughout the week.  On May 2, seven U.S. troops were wounded in a grenade attack there, and hostilities continued to flare up there and in another former stronghold of Saddam, the town of Haditha northwest of Baghdad throughout May. British and American officials in Iraq admitted there were too few troops on hand to do a complete job of pacifying the country. 

On May 1, 2003, President Bush, from the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, declared that major combat operations in Iraq had come to an end. 

On May 6, 2003, President Bush announced a change in the American administration in Iraq.  Retired diplomat L. Paul ("Jerry") Bremer was picked to succeed retired General Jay Garner, who had been on the job only a few weeks.  Bremer's title was "Presidential Envoy" and the interim U.S. rule of Iraq was henceforth called the "Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)." The abrupt change was presented as an attempt to put a more "civilian" face on American oversight of Iraq's affairs.  Actually, the appointment represented a compromise in a feud between the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon.  Garner was to stay on, working under Bremer.  The fact that Bremer was to report directly to the Pentagon caused some to speculate that Rumsfeld and the Defense Department had come out of the compromise deal significantly ahead of Secretary of State Colin Powell and the State Department. By mid May, civil disorder continued to be widespread (with looting the biggest problem) in spite of Bremer's vow to make it stop, and the United States, in what the New York Times described (May 18, 2003) as "an abrupt reversal," announced that the original plan, which was to have had an interim Iraqi self-government in place by the end of May, had been put off indefinitely. 

On May 10, 2003, thousands of Iraqi Shiites gave a hero's welcome to Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, who had fled Iraq into exile in Iran in 1980.  Hakim headed the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and, in view of the fact that more than 60% of Iraqis were Shiites, was believed to be positioned to become a major political player in Iraq.  In a speech in Najaf on May 12, Hakim called for a modern democratic Islamic republic in Iraq, free from foreign interference and free from religious extremism.  He pledged that his organization would not resort to arms to achieve its objectives. By late August, rifts in the Hawza (the Shia religious leadership in Najaf) between older, more moderate Shia clerics led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and younger, more militant ones led by Moqtada al-Sadr had hardened with the first group counseling patience with the Americans, whom they trusted would deliver a democratic state which the Shiites could dominate through sheer numbers (they constituted 60% of the population).  On the other side were the followers of al-Sadr who called for the creation of an Iranian style Islamic state in Iraq. A car bomb blast in Najaf on August 29 near the tomb of  Imam Ali carried out by a team of Saudi and Iraqi sympathizers of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization who appeared to be capitalizing on the internecine Shia power struggles killed at least 95 including Baqir al-Hakim.  

Traveling in Iraq in May, columnist Thomas Friedman was impressed with the degree to which Saddam had impoverished and broken his people.  Friedman noted, "With all due respect to the U.S. military, and the brave men and women who fought here, this contest was surely one of the most unequal wars in the history of warfare. In socioeconomic terms, we were at war with the Flintstones." (New York Times, May 21, 2003)

Also in mid May, 2003, it was announced that the CIA had begun a review to determine whether or not intelligence leading up to the war in Iraq claiming Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction and had ties to al-Qaeda was truthful and the extent to which such intelligence may have been influenced by pro-war politics. American forces, by this point, had failed to find evidence of any weapons or any ties to al-Qaeda. With respect to possible links to al-Qaeda, a copy of a memo from Saddam to Iraqi insurgents found with him upon his capture explicitly warned Iraqi fighters not to forge ties with Islamic jihadists and other foreign Arab nationals.  (New York Times, May 22, 2003 and January 14, 2004)

On May 22, 2003, the United Nations Security Council voted 14-0 to accept Resolution 1483 (full text) lifting economic sanctions against Iraq (imposed during the 1990-91 conflict over Kuwait) and backing the U.S. led administration of Iraq.  France, Russia, and Germany, all of whom had opposed the war, supported the resolution.  The sanctions had to be removed before the U.S. could begin legally exporting Iraqi oil and using the profits to rebuild the country.  The resolution also cleared the way for U.N. weapons inspectors to return to the country along with other U.N. agencies, and leant an important dose of legitimacy to U.S. rule of Iraq.  Syria, the only Arab country on the Security Council, boycotted the vote (BBC, May 22, 2003).  Arab editorialists harshly criticized the U.N. for "having bestowed legality upon the American occupation of Iraq." (al-Hayat, May 24, 2003)

On June 18, U.S. forces fired upon a convoy of vehicles believed to contain members of the recently deposed Iraqi leadership who were traversing the border from Iraq to Syria.  Some U.S. troops crossed the border into Syria in pursuit, and some Syrian border guards were injured in the fracas.  Throughout July, tensions between American troops along the Iraq-Syria border and local residents escalated amidst charges that the Americans were disrupting cross border visits and what had been a lively smuggling trade (New York Times, July 15, 2003). 

In his New York Times column on June 24, 2003, Nicholas Kristof noted the irony that the Americans, by overthrowing Saddam and promoting democracy in Iraq, may have unwittingly served as "midwives to growing fundamentalism" there.  He cited recent murders of Christian liquor store owners in Baghdad, demands by fundamentalists that male and female students be separated at the University of Basra, and a growing number of demands for the compulsory veiling of women.  Kristof alluded to Fareed Zakaria's claim (The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (New York: Norton, 2003), 31, 58, 101-102):  that constitutional liberty, not democracy, is the necessary prerequisite for freedom from repression, and that democratic elections carried out in an environment where a tradition of civil liberties does not exist may, therefore, produce less, not more, freedom. 

Pockets of armed, organized resistance against U.S. troops in the Sunni dominated midsection of Iraq (especially in Fallujah, but also in and around Baghdad and to the north in the vicinity of Tikrit, Saddam's hometown) and against British troops in the Shiite south continued in the months following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime as the American administration struggled to impose law and order and rebuild the country. Resistance was fueled by two decisions Bremer made shortly after he arrived in Iraq in May, 2003: he removed Iraqi Ba'ath Party members from positions of authority and he broke up the 300,000 man Iraqi army. It soon became clear that significant numbers of Iraqis affected by these decisions were joining what started to become an Iraqi insurgency.  By July of 2003, a full scale war of attrition against coalition forces appeared to be underway in Iraq. Power and fuel shortages in Basra in August were at least in part to blame for resistance to coalition forces in that area, but there were signs that militants from outside Iraq had entered the country and were stirring up trouble (see below). 

Timothy Carney, a senior American official, told the BBC shortly after leaving his post in Iraq on June 26 that the United States administration of the country suffered from inadequate planning and resources.  American opinion polls in early July showed that the number of Americans who thought their country's campaign in Iraq was going well had dropped thirty percentage points since early May.  During questioning by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 9, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld testified that the monthly cost of maintaining U.S. troops in Iraq was $3.9 billion, nearly double the figure given in April ($2 billion), and that the cost of U.S. operations in Afghanistan was between $900 million and $950 million monthly.  (New York Times, July 10, 2003)  Troop strength was pegged at approximately 145,000. 

On July 13, the inaugural meeting of the 25 member governing council (majlis al-hukm) composed of Iraqi nationals took place, the first institutional step toward Iraqi self-government.  The council was made up of 13 Shiites, 5 Sunnis, 5 Kurds, 1 Christian, and 1 Turkmen. The council had the power to make ministerial appointments, formulate policy, and participate in the drafting of a new constitution.  The U.S. led coalition reserved veto power. 

On July 22, U.S. troops laid siege to a house in Mosul and killed Saddam's two eldest sons, Uday and Qusay. 

In August, 2003, Iraqi Shiite cleric, Sayyid Iyad Jamaleddine, commenting on the subject of religion and state, said, "'We want a secular constitution. That is the most important point. If we write a secular constitution and separate religion from state, that would be the end of despotism and it would liberate religion as well as the human being...The Islamic religion has been hijacked for 14 centuries by the hands of the state. The state dominated religion, not the other way around. It used religion for its own ends. Tyrants ruled this nation for 14 centuries and they covered their tyranny with the cloak of religion...When I called for secularism in Nasiriya (in the first postwar gathering of Iraqi leaders), they started saying things against me. But last week I had some calls from Qum, thanking me for presenting this thesis and saying, `We understand what you are calling for, but we cannot say so publicly...Secularism is not blasphemy. I am a Muslim. I am devoted to my religion. I want to get it back from the state and that is why I want a secular state...When young people come to religion, not because the state orders them to but because they feel it themselves in their hearts, it actually increases religious devotion...The problem of the Middle East cannot be solved unless all the states in the area become secular...I call for opening the door for Ijtihad [reinterpretation of the Koran in light of changing circumstances]. The Koran is a book to be interpreted [by] each age. Each epoch should not be tied to interpretations from 1,000 years ago. We should be open to interpretations based on new and changing times.'"  (Quoted by Thomas Friedman, New York Times, August 10, 2003)

Also in August, 2003, bomb attacks against high profile targets in Iraq shook American confidence in its ability to control developments there (more), and a "friendly fire" incident on September 12, when U.S. troops mistakenly fired upon Iraqi police in Fallujah (killing ten) and also fired upon a Red Crescent hospital, led to further doubts over American competence to rebuild Iraq.  By this point, American officials in Iraq knew they were dealing with a full fledged, well-coordinated insurgency (more on the origins of the insurgency). The insurgency was carried out by three main groups (working independently of one another for the most part): Saddam loyalists (including Ba'athists), Sunni Muslims, and foreign Sunni jihadists crossing into Iraq from countires like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Sudan. The long border between Syria and Iraq became a main crossing point for these foreign fighters. (See BBC, "Who are the Insurgents?")

On September 7, President Bush announced he would ask Congress to approve $87 billion dollars more to carry on the struggle to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, a far larger figure than expected (but not as large as some later estimates).  Bush also began a public shift in the rationale for U.S. involvement in Iraq:  away from the search for weapons of mass destruction toward fighting terror, this in light of the fact that since his public declaration on May 1 that major combat in Iraq was over, no weapons of mass destruction had been found, Iraqi oil had not begun to generate the revenues policy planners had forecast, and significant portions of Iraq were not militarily secure.

The third week of September, 2003 was an especially grim one in Iraq.  A member of the Iraqi governing council, Aquila al-Hashimi, was assassinated in Baghdad.  The U.N. Headquarters there was the target of another suicide bomb attack.  This attack caused U.N. officials to begin scaling back staff and relief operations.  A bomb in a market in the town of Baquba killed eight, and U.S. soldiers continued to die in ambushes (the toll rose to 80 dead since major combat operations were declared over in May). In Washington as October began, the Bush administration came under increasing pressure to justify its costly military and financial policies in Iraq in the face of congressional testimony by weapons inspector David Kay that no weapons of mass destruction had been found. On October 5, the New York Times reported that a secret Pentagon commission charged in the autumn of 2002 with investigating the possibility that Iraqi oil revenues could be used to pay for the costs of rebuilding the country contradicted the Bush administration's public statements in support of the policy.  The commission found that Iraq's oil industry had been so badly hurt by trade embargoes imposed during the 1990-91 conflict that oil production had fallen by more than 25% and that oil revenues between 2003 and 2005 would be no more than about half what the Bush administration had predicted in the run up to the war. 

On October 16, 2003, the U.N. Security Council (including Syria) unanimously passed Resolution 1511 which called for a continuing dominant U.S. role in the administration and rebuilding of Iraq, but which stipulated the transfer of sovereignty back to the Iraqi people "as soon as practicable." The resolution called upon Iraqi leaders to put together a plan for a new constitution and elections by December 15, 2003. (BBC, Oct. 16, 2003)

On October 27, 2003, as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began, suicide bombings in Baghdad at the International Committee of the Red Cross and at several police stations claimed 36 lives and wounded more than 200. On November 2, at least 15 U.S. soldiers were killed when a Chinook helicopter was shot down near Fallujah inside the so-called "Sunni Triangle" in the middle of Iraq, the worst single incident since March 23 when 28 American soldiers were killed. On Nov. 12, at least 27 were killed in a suicide bomb attack on an Italian police headquarters in Nasiriyya. An internal CIA report leaked to the press concluded that prospects for democracy in Iraq were worsening as more Iraqis became attracted to the insurgency (BBC, Nov. 13, 2003).

In the wake of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, the U.S. abruptly recalled its top administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, for consultations during the week of November 9, 2003.  Bremer returned to Iraq later in the week with orders to yield to the Iraqi Governing Council's wish to reverse the original sequence of events (write a constitution, then hold elections and install a new government, as MacArthur had done in Japan in 1945, for example) and move directly to install the council as an interim government first (by June, 2004, well ahead of the November presidential elections in the U.S.). Then, the council would draft a constitution at some later date. The chief risk in the new plan was that Iraq would be in the hands of an illegitimate government at least for as long as it took to write the constitution. And, the new plan flew in the face of UN Resolution 1511. By late February, the U.S. had reversed itself and accepted the conclusion of the U.N. that it would not be feasible to hold elections in Iraq before the U.S. handed over power in June, 2004.  

On November 24, the U.S. appointed Iraqi governing council banned the Dubai based al-Arabiyya news station from operating its Baghdad bureau charging the station with inciting violence in Iraq. 

On November 25, 2003, Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times that the only viable strategy for post-Saddam Iraq was a "three state solution" with the Kurds in the north, the Sunnis in the center, and the Shia in the south (an arrangement that corresponded loosely to the old Ottoman districts of Mosul (north), Baghdad (center), and Basra (south) -- more on early history of Iraq). 

On December 13, 2003 at about 8:30 p.m. Iraq time, Saddam Hussein was captured by American forces near his hometown of Tikrit. Televised images and accounts of the leader who had billed himself as the Arab world's modern savior, a 21st century Salah al-Din (also), but who had surrendered without a fight to the Americans, provoked renewed feelings of humiliation in many Arabs and denial in others.  There were fears that, just as past humiliations had led to more, not less, Arab violence (see Jansen and Hourani and the experience of the French in Algeria in the 1950s), Saddam's capture might lead to increased resistance to the occupation forces in Iraq.  Saddam's capture was followed on December 19 with Libya's Colonel Qaddafi's announcement that Libya was abandoning its development program for Weapons of Mass Destruction. In any case, these two events among others (for example, the fact that Palestinian leader Arafat had been a virtual prisoner in his ruined compound in Ramallah since January 2002), seemed to confirm that a half century of political Arabism (since Nasser's time) had ended. (see also)

2004 In early January, senior U.S. military commander, Major General Charles Swannack, Jr., announced that attacks on American forces in Iraq had declined 60% since the capture of Saddam Hussein (New York Times, Jan.8, 2004). Still, insurgent attacks in Iraq were coming almost daily and the death toll for American soldiers since the beginning of combat in March, 2003 had risen to nearly 500.  In addition, an attack on a Shia mosque in Baquba in early January killed five and was a reminder of simmering Sunni-Shia tensions and political power playing in post-Saddam Iraq. In the north, Kurds were resisting U.S. efforts to give up some of the autonomy they had enjoyed since the creation of the northern no-fly zone in 1991 in the interest of national Iraqi unity. 

The month of February, 2004, however, brought a new wave of suicide bombings and other insurgent attacks in Iraq. On February first, more than 100 died in an attack in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil. A pair of suicide car bomb attacks near Baghdad on February 10 and 11 killed nearly 100, mostly new Iraqi recruits for internal security forces. On the 14th, twenty-two were killed when insurgents stormed a police station and the mayor's office in Fallujah. On March 17, a 1,000 pound car bomb detonated by a suicide bomber killed 17 in and around the Mount Lebanon Hotel in Baghdad.  These events together with the appearance of a letter purported to have been written by a Jordanian ex-convict and al-Qaeda operative, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of  Jama' at-l-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad ("The Oneness and Holy War Group"), raised fresh worries that al-Qaeda's strategy was to turn Iraqis against American forces and incite civil war in the country even before the installation of a provisional Iraqi government at the end of June 2004. (see Text of Zarqawi's Letter at U.S. Dept. of State; More on suicide bombings as a resistance tactic -- see also; also.)

In early 2004, others, including British diplomats, remained optimistic that life in Iraq overall was improving, citing steady progress in commerce and growth in rebuilding the Iraqi infrastructure.  Unemployment in Iraq had declined from 70% immediately after the war to about 30% in February '04, and the Iraqi economy was estimated to be growing at 20-30% per year (BBC, Feb. 24, 2004).  A BBC poll released on March 16 showed that 70% of Iraqis were saying that their lives were going well and 56% reported that their lives were better after the war than they had been before the war.

One observer had proposed the creation of a "bomb and banana index" as a means of assessing progress over against deterioration (BBC, Feb. 12, 2004).  A week earlier, Hazam Saghia (in al-Hayat, February 3) worried about the ongoing creation of an Arab culture of suicide in the Middle East:  "It appears certain that a suicidal revolution is 'uniting' our region today, fashioning 'our image,' and drawing the lines of our future." (my translation).

On March 1, 2004, the Iraqi Governing Council approved an interim constitution for the country according to the timetable in advance of the American withdrawal scheduled for the following June. Key provisions: Islam was to be one source of legislative authority alongside a number of others, Kurds were to remain autonomous, and women were to be allotted 25% of the seats in the National Assembly (BBC). However, in June 2004, the U.N. passed a resolution awarding sovereignty to the Iraqis after June 30 which effectively stripping the Kurds of their autonomy. (see).

On March 2, more than 140 were killed when suicide bombers detonated devices in Baghdad and Karbala. In Karbala, Shiites were busy observing the Ashura rites (named for the "tenth" of the month of Muharram) commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Husayn at the hands of the Sunni Caliph Yazid in 680. In the town of Quetta,  Pakistan, at least 37 Shiites died from gunfire when their Ashura procession was fired upon.

By April 3, 2004, the U.S. found itself trying to put down a rebellion on two fronts: by Sunni loyalists of Saddam Hussein in the "Sunni Triangle" ( Baghdad, Fallujah-Ramadi, Tikrit) and by militant Shiites in Baghdad and the south.  This led to some of the worst fighting since the invasion the previous year. On April 1, a mob in Fallujah attacked four American civilians working for an American private paramilitary organization, burned them inside their vehicle, dismembered them, and dragged them through the streets in a manner reminiscent of of a similar incident in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993.

Trouble with militant Shiites began on March 29, 2004 after American troops imposed a sixty-day shut down upon al-Hawza, an Iraqi Shia newspaper, charging it with inciting violence. The paper was run by a thirty year old firebrand Shia cleric named Moqtada al-Sadr (see also - and BBC profile) who was fiercely anti-American and keen on positioning himself as a power to be reckoned with in Iraq especially vis a vis his rival Shia cleric, the much more moderate and popular Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani. The following weekend (April 2-3), Sadr called up his 10,000 man militia - the "Mahdi Army" - to move into open rebellion against the Americans.  More than fifty were killed including eight Americans in clashes all over the country. By the second week of April, kidnapping of foreign nationals had been added to the mix and foreign aid workers began to leave the country. Bomb blasts in the south on April 21 killed scores as it became clear that the new Iraqi police forces were being infiltrated by insurgents.  Two ironic twists and turns occurred at the same time: the United States, having gone it alone according to the dictates of the Bush Doctrine, began to ask the United Nations openly for help in Iraq, and after months of aggressively trying to root out elements of Saddam's Ba'ath Party, the U.S. began quietly reinstating many of them in key positions, an admission that it wasn't capable of going it alone after all.

On April 29, 2004 anger around the world erupted at reports aired on CBS's "60 Minutes" news program that U.S. military personnel had tortured Iraqi prisoners in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. The Red Cross later confirmed that instances of abuse had been widespread throughout Iraq since the previous fall.  Both President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair apologized and promised that those responsible would be brought to justice. Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker (May 24, 2004) traced the policy of torture at Abu Ghraib to a secret Pentagon plan approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld the previous year that drew up procedures for interrogating prisoners. Among the methods were sexual humiliation, forcing prisoners to curse Islam and thank Jesus, and the forced feeding of pork and alcohol (BBC, May 21, 2004 and The Washington Post). On June 8, the New York Times reported that lawyers for the Bush administration had written in a March 2003 legal memorandum that President Bush as commander-in-chief charged with protecting the security of the United States was not bound by international treaties prohibiting the use of torture on detainees. This was followed in late June by the release of the so-called "Torture Memo" written by a Justice Department lawyer named Jay Bybee and intended as a guide to how far interrogators were allowed to go in coercing information from detainees. (Kate Zernike, New York Times, June 27, 2004)  In early 2005, British soldiers in Basra were charged with abusing Iraqi detainees in May, 2003 (BBC, Jan.18, 2005). As in the Abu Ghraib case, this one included charges of sexual humiliation of prisoners.  By this point, the U.S. role in Iraq had begun to look to some like a quagmire on a scale similar to the experience of the French in the Algerian war of independence.

On May 11, 2004, militants in Iraq linked to al-Qaeda filmed the beheading of an American civilian contractor after reading a statement asserting that they were acting in the name of Islam. Many Iraqis who saw the film on al-Jazeera expressed horror and anger at both the act and the statement.  (see also)

On May 17, Iraqi Governing Council President Ezzedine Salim was among those killed in a suicide car bombing in Baghdad.

On May 19, 2004, U.S. forces along the border between Iraq and Syria, who were trying to stop the infiltration of foreigners bent on joining Iraqi insurgents, fired upon what locals described as a wedding party killing approximately forty. This happened on the same day an Israeli tank in Rafah fired upon unarmed Palestinian demonstrators killing at least seven.

On May 20, U.S. forces raided the home and offices of Ahmad Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, head of the Iraqi National Congress in the years leading up to the war, and, up to that point, regarded as a key U.S. ally. In the run up to the 2003 war, Chalabi had lobbied hard to convince the U.S. administration that Saddam was harboring weapons of mass destruction, that the Americans should overthrown Saddam, and that Iraqis would welcome the Americans with open arms. Chalabi's chief aim was, with America's help, to have himself installed as the next head of state in Iraq.

On May 23, American and Iraqi forces raided a mosque in the holy Shiite city of Kufa where they claimed insurgents were storing weapons. Thirty-two militia men loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr were killed.

On May 25, the New York Times reported that the U.S. had accepted the premise that some militias in Iraq would be permitted to continue operating. The proposition was reminiscent of the situation in Lebanon during the civil war of 1975-1989 where the United States, Israel, but mostly Syria at one time or another found themselves in the role of guarantor of security.

Writing in the New York Times June 23, Youssef Ibrahim warned the Bush administration to heed the demands of Iraq's Shiites who, by virtue of sheer numbers (two thirds of the population), were destined to dominate the political life of the country.

As the days wound down toward the June 30 handover of sovereignty to the new Iraqi government, the rate of insurgent attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces began to soar.  The actual handover occurred two days earlier than expected, on June 28, 2004. (see also U.N. 1546, June 8, 2004)  (continued)


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Last Revised: October 26, 2008