(From Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia)

Iraq War

The Iraq War, named "Operation Iraqi Freedom," was launched with an air attack on Baghdad on March 19, 2003, at 9:30 P.M. EST (5:30 A.M. March 20, Baghdad time) by a U.S.-led coalition of forces. This war was the test case for the doctrine of preventive war advocated by the administration of U.S. president George W. Bush. It did not enjoy the nearly universal international support that the 1991 Persian Gulf War had. Prewar diplomatic activity in the United Nations (UN) Security Council as the United States sought to legitimize an invasion was conducted in an atmosphere of tension and suspicion.

The lead-up to the war was undertaken in the post-September 11, 2001, international environment. The devastating attacks in the United States against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by terrorists linked to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda (al-Qaida) network changed U.S. strategic thinking and military posture; this was particularly true when Middle Eastern and Islamic countries were involved. Sensitized by these attacks, the foreign policy of the Bush administration took a new interventionist approach. So-called rogue regimes (particularly those of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea) were lumped together with international terrorist organizations (principally Al Qaeda) and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD); all were considered targets of the war on international terrorism launched in the aftermath of September 11.

After the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the successful ouster of the Taliban regime there that had harbored bin Laden and many of his followers, the administration controversially linked Iraq's Baathist regime (see Baath party) with Al Qaeda. It also identified Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as a supporter of international terrorism and attempted to link him to the September 11 attacks. Although these links were subsequently disproved, the Bush administration—most notably such officials as Vice-President Richard Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz—viewed Hussein's Iraq as a rogue state that was a nexus of WMD and international terrorism. For the United States to be secure, so the logic went, Hussein's regime must be destroyed and Iraq must be democratized. Iraq would then be a "democratic domino" in the Middle East, acting as a catalyst for the democratization of the rest of the region, thereby weakening the appeal of Al Qaeda.

The war itself pitted the most devastating military force in world history (the U.S. military) against an Iraqi military that was a shadow of what it had been in 1991. The speed and efficiency with which the U.S. (and, to a lesser extent, the British) forces destroyed Iraq's military formations were beyond all expectations. It also, however, placed U.S. forces in a situation for which they had not prepared—that of military occupation, state reconstruction, and nation building. "Regime change" involves two processes. The first, that of regime removal, is arguably the easiest. The second, that of regime replacement, is often far more difficult and dangerous. The United States declared the major combat phase of the conflict at an end on May 1, 2003. The situation was still extremely chaotic, however. The U.S. military quickly found itself fighting a classic asymmetrical war against Iraqi insurgent forces. These forces were drawn from Hussein's military and paramilitary formations, Islamist and tribal groups, and foreign fighters associated with Al Qaeda; they targeted both American personnel and the new Iraqi government bodies created after Hussein's ouster. By the time sovereignty was officially transferred from the occupation forces to an interim Iraqi government on June 28, 2004, the security situation in Iraq was increasingly perilous.

In addition to the security and military-associated problems in the aftermath of regime removal, the Iraq War also created serious political problems. One effect of the removal of Hussein was to reignite internal grievances going back to the formation of the Iraqi state after World War I, if not before. Rather than embracing democratic principles, Iraq became divided between different ethnic, tribal, and religious groups. Such groups had formerly been held together by brute force. At best, they had to struggle to develop a unified and sustainable political process for the future. Starting in February 2006, however, Iraq suffered from growing sectarian violence between segments of the population in addition to the ongoing insurgency against the new government and coalition forces.

Postwar Iraq's political problems remained severe. They had the potential to spread throughout the Middle East and threaten the stability and integrity of neighboring states.

The Lead-up to the War

It is commonly assumed that the Iraq War had its roots in the 1991 war that followed Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. In that war the Iraqi leader was defeated but remained in power. After being encouraged to rise against Hussein by then U.S. president George H. W. Bush (the father of George W. Bush), Iraq's southern Shiites and its northern Kurds saw their rebellions brutally suppressed by the remnants of Hussein's army. The main reason that these rebellions were not supported and that Hussein was allowed to remain in power was a belief that an Iraq without a strong leader would collapse as a state. The result of such a collapse was likely to be instability in the heart of the Middle East. In addition, it was thought that Iraq without Hussein was likely to be dominated by its Shiite majority. In all probability, this would increase Iranian influence in the region. (The United States still considered Iran to be a far greater cause for concern in the Middle East than Iraq, which it had backed against Iran during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.)

During the decade that followed the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraq existed under a comprehensive program of UN sanctions that were aimed at curtailing Hussein's ability to develop WMD. These sanctions were increasingly criticized for the hardships they caused ordinary Iraqis. The United States and Britain also enforced "no-fly zones" over the Kurdish north and the Shiite south of Iraq. Ostensibly, the zones existed to protect the Kurdish and Shiite populations; in reality, their purpose was to further constrain Hussein's regime and erode his air-defense network by intermittent aerial attacks. These zones were enforced without UN approval. Concomitant with sanctions was a UN program of weapons inspections (the UN Special Commission, or UNSCOM) targeting Hussein's remaining WMD stocks. The relationship between the UN and Hussein was poor. Hussein played a game of hide-and-seek with the UN inspectors that ultimately ended all cooperation in December 1998. UNSCOM inspectors remained convinced, however, that they had succeeded in eliminating nearly all of Iraq's extant WMD capability by this date.

This decade-long history of mistrust, sanctions, and low-intensity warfare had done little to normalize relations between Iraq and the United States. Nevertheless, there was no evidence before 2001 that the United States was planning to go to war with Iraq in order to remove Hussein. Until this time, the preferred U.S. option had been to work with Iraqi opposition groups and support their attempts to overthrow Hussein from inside Iraq. A large-scale military attack was not considered, primarily for the same reasons that Hussein was not removed in 1991—fear of a breakup of Iraq. This was to change with the ascendancy of George W. Bush to the presidency in January 2001; the emergence of a new right-wing group of presidential advisors (the neoconservatives); and, most important, the Al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on U.S. soil.

The attacks of September 11 started the countdown to the Iraq War. Previously sidelined within the Republican party, a group of right-wing intellectuals had long advocated a more aggressive strategy to promote U.S. interests in the wider world, and in the Middle East in particular. These intellectuals, commonly referred to as neoconservatives, were suddenly brought into the center of political planning following September 11. Their proposals included their long-held plan for democratizing the Middle East—starting with Iraq.

After September 11 the Bush administration began to heighten its rhetoric against Hussein's regime. It argued that Hussein had continued to develop WMD and might well use these weapons against the United States or provide them to terrorists who would do so. The new interventionist strategy of the administration was made clear in the National Security Strategy of September 2002; it spelled out the neoconservative geopolitical vision of reconstructing the Middle East along democratic, capitalist lines based on American values that the administration considered to be universal in their appeal. Bush's prewar strategy was focused on proving the existence of Hussein's WMD program. On Oct. 10, 2002, the U.S. House of Representatives (by a vote of 296-133) and Senate (by 77-23) authorized Bush to use military force against Iraq if necessary. The congressional votes were based on an array of questionable intelligence assessments. Mirroring Bush's actions, British prime minister Tony Blair also moved toward using his country's military force to support the United States if Bush chose to attack Hussein's regime.

Bush and Blair, though, stood almost alone among major world leaders in their willingness to use military force to pressure Hussein's compliance with the terms of the 1991 cease-fire. Furthermore, opposition did not come from just the governments and citizens of other nations. Antiwar movements emerged in both the United States and Great Britain, though the latter's was more visible. Both Bush and Blair had many detractors even within their own political ranks. The principal international opponents of the use of force included France, Germany, and Russia. Concerns were also expressed by the Arab countries bordering on Iraq. UN Security Council Resolution 1441, passed on Nov. 8, 2002, stated that Hussein would face "serious consequences" if he failed to give unfettered access to UN weapons inspectors. (These inspectors were now operating under the auspices of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Committee [UNMOVIC].) Nevertheless, it appeared that no actions or offers by the Iraqis would be able to satisfy the American and British governments. Primarily, this was because there was no foolproof method by which Hussein could prove that he did not have a WMD program.

In March 2003 the United States and Britain launched an intense round of diplomacy. They sought UN backing for the use of force against Iraq if Hussein did not comply with a series of explicit disarmament benchmarks within a short period of time. Both France and Russia openly stated that they would use their vetoes in the UN Security Council to prevent the passage of any such bill. China and Germany likewise made their opposition clear. The United States and Britain had no choice but to withdraw the bill. Instead, they embarked on the building of a rather curious collection of an additional 44 nations into a "Coalition of the Willing."

This coalition, while impressive in terms of the number of nations it included, was far less impressive in terms of its military expertise and commitment. Of the 45 nations supporting the United States, only 30 were prepared to do so publicly—Afghanistan, Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan. Virtually all of the coalition combat forces were, however, Anglo-American. After the 260,000 Americans and 40,000 British, the next largest contingent was the 2,000 Australians. Unlike in 1991, no Arab state openly supported the invasion of Iraq. The Turkish legislature refused to allow U.S. forces to enter Iraq from Turkish territory to establish a second, northern front in the war. The war split the traditional Western alliance created after World War II, with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members Belgium, Canada, and Norway, as well as France and Germany, refusing to join the U.S.-led coalition.

With military forces in place by mid-March, President Bush issued an ultimatum to Hussein on the evening of Mar. 17, 2003 (the morning of March 18 in Baghdad). Hussein and the members of his immediate circle, including his two sons, Qusay and Uday, were given 48 hours to leave the country. On March 18, Prime Minister Blair secured a parliamentary vote backing the use of British forces against Hussein by a margin of 412 to 149. Predictably, Hussein rejected the ultimatum. This triggered the invasion of Iraq by the Anglo-American coalition.

The Military Campaign

The military campaign to remove Hussein was brutally effective. It commenced with an air attack on Baghdad on the evening of March 19 (the morning of March 20, Baghdad time). Just 21 days later, U.S. forces would be occupying Baghdad, with Hussein in hiding. The reality was quite different from the scenario many observers had envisioned before the war. Many esteemed academics had predicted that the Iraqis, faced with an invading, non-Muslim enemy, would defend their country and inflict horrendous losses on the coalition forces. It was also expected that Hussein would deploy chemical or biological weapons or both as a last means of defense. This was not to be the case.

The Air War

The opening salvo of the war commenced with an opportunistic attack. The war was not meant to start when it did—it had been time-tabled for two days later. But U.S. intelligence sources believed that they had located Hussein and his two sons, along with other Baathist leaders, in central Baghdad. Two F-117s were dispatched with EBGU-27 bunker-busting bombs. The F-117s hit their target at 5:36 A.M. March 20, Baghdad time, but Hussein and his entourage were not in the building. This attack highlighted several important factors. First, the U.S. intelligence network was quite pervasive. Second, the U.S. Air Force could target anywhere in Iraq at will. Third, even with such advances, Hussein was still difficult to locate. The closeness of the initial attack was likely to make him even more careful. Coalition air commanders enjoyed unprecedented air superiority over Iraq; their advantage was even greater than the almost total superiority they had displayed in 1991. The war of 2003, however, brought new technologies into the theater, particularly in the areas of ordnance and surveillance. New munitions were more accurate and destructive than those of the previous generation. In addition, new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and satellite reconnaissance provided a clear picture of Iraqi positions. The air campaign that followed the initial F-117 assassination attempt was divided into two components. In a break with conventional military strategy, ground forces were committed to battle immediately, rather than waiting for weeks while the opposition was weakened by air assault as was customary. As such, the air war included both the Iraq-wide targeting of military infrastructure and positions and immediate close-air support for the invading ground forces. In the first few days following the F-117 bombing, coalition forces were struggling to restructure their mission plans and bring offenses against major targets forward. During this time, Baghdad suffered only sporadic attacks, rather than the concerted aerial assault the world's media were expecting. U.S. Navy and Royal Navy ships and submarines launched 36 Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets across Iraq. Iraq responded by launching 6 Al-Babil-100 missiles against Kuwait. Unlike the Tomahawks, 4 of the Al-Babils were destroyed by Patriot missiles; the other 2 missed their targets.

The full force of the coalition air assault hit Baghdad on the evening of March 21 (local time). F-117s, B-2s and B-1s, and British Tornados were all deployed. During the course of that night, 600 cruise missiles were launched and 1,500 missions flown; 700 strike aircraft hit 1,000 targets. The coalition was operating from aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, from Upper Hayford Royal Air Force base in Britain, from Whiteman Air Force Base in the United States, from the U.S. base on Diego Garcia (see British Indian Ocean Territory) in the Indian Ocean, and from bases across the Middle East. The response of the Iraqi air defenses reflected their sheer impotence in the face of such overwhelming force. No fixed-wing sorties were flown by Iraqi aircraft. Only a pitiful number of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) were launched.

This was the first night of what was named "shock and awe," reflecting hopes in the U.S. administration that Hussein's regime would simply collapse when faced with the sheer firepower available to the coalition commanders. Many Iraqi government targets were not hit, in the belief that Hussein would need a command and control network through which he could orchestrate a surrender. The telephone network and the electrical grid all remained intact during these early stages.

Over the ensuing days, the air war became more focused on supporting the advancing ground forces. These forces were meeting stiffer resistance than initially expected. Between March 23 and March 25 (local time), the coalition launched approximately 2,000 sorties against a mixture of preplanned targets and targets of opportunity. On March 25, coalition ground forces were held up by seasonal strong winds (known as the shamal). Believing that coalition aircraft would be grounded, the Iraqis moved several divisions toward U.S. forces. Their advances were, however, observed by UAVs and JSTARS aircraft. This information was passed to high-altitude B-2s and F-16s equipped with infrared sensors capable of penetrating the dust storms. GBU-12s were used to destroy the heavy armor of the Republican Guard (the Iraqi military's elite force).

The air war was, at the military level, an unsurpassed success. The coalition lost only two fixed-wing aircraft to enemy action—an A-10 over Baghdad and an F-15E over Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. A British Tornado was also accidentally downed by a U.S. Patriot missile. Coalition aircraft equipped with the latest avionics and munitions totally dominated the skies over Iraq. In terms of overall military planning, though, the coalition misjudged the ability of air power alone to win a war. Even after successive days of immense aerial bombardment, Hussein's regime did not collapse. His routing from Baghdad would have to be accomplished by soldiers on the ground rather than by pilots in the air.

The Land War

The commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. Tommy Franks, was responsible for planning the coalition assault against Iraq. In 1991 the United States had emphasized "overwhelming power" against Hussein's forces. In 2003 the key phrase was "overmatching power"—meaning that the enemy would be attacked across such a broad spectrum that its military would collapse. The use of new technologies was essential to a war plan that required precision, speed, and mobility. A significant difference between 1991 and 2003 was that CENTCOM would commence its land assault simultaneously with the air assault. Furthermore, the land assault would not aim to seize territory in an absolute sense. Instead, land forces would bypass difficult areas and merely maintain "control" over territory; seizure was to come after Hussein was removed. Special operations forces constituted about 10% of the total number of troops involved in the war. They played a generally unpublicized but extremely significant role in the conflict. Women, who had become a substantial component of the U.S. volunteer army since 1994, also played an extensive role.

The 3d Infantry Division was organized into three brigade combat teams. Each was equipped with Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Abrams tanks. The 4th Brigade operated as two battalions—one equipped with Black Hawk and Apache helicopters, followed by the 7th Cavalry on the ground. The task of the 4th Brigade was to uncover the enemy for the brigade combat teams. Behind the 3d Infantry Division was V Corps. The task of V Corps, which included the 101st Airborne Division, was to defend the rapidly lengthening supply lines with its helicopter forces and to control pockets of Iraqi forces left behind by the advancing columns. Marines of the 5th Marine Regimental Combat Team, the main combat division of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), crossed into Iraq on the evening of March 20 (local time). The marines were initially considered to be supporting the main advance of the infantry. The MEF was, however, the essential eastern force protecting the infantry and allowing Baghdad to be targeted from more than one direction. The marines captured the southern oil fields. They then swung west to reach Nasiriya. After heavy fighting with the paramilitary Fedayeen Saddam ("Saddam's men of sacrifice") forces in Nasiriya, the marines joined in the advance toward Baghdad.

By the third week, U.S. forces had captured Saddam International Airport to the west of Baghdad. After a major assault, much of Basra, the chief city in southern Iraq, was in British hands. By April 9 most of Baghdad was under the control of the U.S. military. Mosul, the largest northern city, surrendered to U.S. troops and Kurdish peshmerga (lightly armed fighters whose name means "those who face death") allied with the United States on April 11. Tikrit was taken on April 14. When major combat operations were declared over on May 1, coalition casualties stood at 125 Americans and 31 British; unofficial estimates put Iraqi civilian casualties at somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000. Hussein and his two sons remained at large.

After the collapse of Hussein's regime, Iraq's Sunnites struggled to maintain their formerly preeminent position against two major groups that Hussein had excluded from power—the Shiites and the Kurds. The Shiites, who form a majority of the population, are represented primarily by religious leaders; many of these leaders were in exile in Iran during Hussein's years in power. The Kurds entered the post-Hussein political game as the most highly organized group because of their experience in governing themselves in the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq after the 1991 war. The Sunnites in general have been disorganized and have suffered from being associated with Hussein's regime, the Baath party, and the atrocities that both committed.

The Phases of Coalition Rule

The first phase of coalition involvement in rebuilding the Iraqi state was led by retired U.S. Army general Jay Garner and the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA). During this phase, U.S. and British military forces remained in charge of overall security and command. ORHA was assigned the task of restoring law and order in Iraq as quickly as possible. It made little progress in bringing stability to Baghdad, which was gripped with looting in the immediate aftermath of regime change. Garner was unceremoniously recalled to Washington, D.C., in mid-May 2003, and ORHA was disbanded.

On May 12, 2003, Garner was replaced as the highest civilian coalition authority in Iraq by Paul Bremer. Bremer headed the new Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). He swiftly outlawed the Baath party and purged nearly 100,000 Iraqis from the new government offices. He also disbanded the Iraqi army and the Republican Guard, putting 350,000 unemployed (and armed) Iraqi soldiers on the street. This resulted in heightened anti-occupation sentiment and an increase in militant activity. In the political sphere, the CPA continued to work with parties and leaders from the former opposition. It selected the Iraqi Governing Council, constructed according to ethnic and sectarian identities. The council, installed in July, included many of the exiles who had been advising the Bush administration during the buildup to the war. Its legitimacy was not recognized by the Arab League until September.

On May 22, 2003, the UN Security Council passed UN Resolution 1483. This resolution lifted 13 years of economic sanctions against Iraq. It also authorized an interim government, placed the proceeds of future Iraqi oil sales into a special reconstruction fund, and made provisions for the UN to assess the progress being made by the Anglo-American alliance. The killing of Hussein's two sons, Uday and Qusay, by U.S. forces on July 22 in Mosul failed to decrease tensions. Instead, Iraqi resentment over foreign occupation and the failure to promptly restore basic services increased. On October 16 the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution preserving a dominant role for the U.S.-led administration of postwar Iraq but pledging to transfer sovereignty back to the Iraqi people as soon as practicable. Yet there were few offers from the international community to contribute new troops or funds to the reconstruction efforts.

The attacks by insurgents grew more sophisticated. Such attacks increasingly targeted foreign-aid workers and Iraqis assisting the occupation. They included the August 19 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad; in this attack, UN special representative to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello was among the more than 100 dead. There was also an attack on the Red Cross headquarters in the capital on October 22. Insurgent activities led to the withdrawal of most foreign-aid workers and complicated recruitment for an Iraqi police force to help restore order. They also made it more difficult to reestablish oil revenues and basic services. By late October the U.S. death toll during the postcombat phase of the war exceeded that of the combat phase. Total number of American dead was well above the 147 Americans killed by hostile fire in the 1991 war.

By early November 2003 the number of U.S. casualties was hitting new heights. Political negotiations had stalled over deep-rooted ethnic and sectarian aspirations. The United States responded by moving away from the longer-term agenda of nation building to the much shorter-term task of state building. It placed particular focus on the establishment of an interim Iraqi government and the transfer of sovereignty. The new plan required a Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), which would serve as an interim constitution, to be drafted by Feb. 28, 2004. The Transitional National Assembly was then to be formed via a complex three-stage selection process.

The TAL was finally signed on Mar. 8, 2004, after Shiite objections were mollified. The law was, in effect, a compromise solution to the problem of the various parties in the Iraqi Governing Council needing to reach agreement on certain important issues so that the transfer of sovereignty could take place. As such, it was a long document with many ambiguities. Some of these ambiguities related to the future political structure of the state and the role of Islam in this state. The TAL also contained a provision that would allow a two-thirds majority vote in any three governorates in a future referendum to block the adoption of a new constitution—a provision that was disparagingly referred to by Shiites as the "Kurdish veto." Even though far from ideal, the TAL was adopted as the interim constitution of Iraq. It was to govern the affairs of state between the planned June 30, 2004, date for the transfer of sovereignty back to the Iraqi people and the formation of a permanent Iraqi government after direct elections scheduled to be held no later than Dec. 31, 2005.

The Interim Iraqi Government

The interim Iraqi government (IIG) that was announced in June 2004 was led by Iyad Allawi and staffed with members of the Iraqi Governing Council and former opposition parties. On June 8 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1546 and unanimously gave its blessing to the IIG. The resolution failed, however, to endorse the TAL provisions designed to protect minorities; this fueled Kurdish demands for autonomy. Sovereignty was finally transferred to the IIG in a low-key ceremony held in the heavily guarded Green Zone of Baghdad on June 28. Bremer left the country that same day, and the CPA ceased to exist. Its personnel became advisers to the IIG operating through the auspices of a new U.S. embassy in Baghdad. This embassy was headed by Ambassador John D. Negroponte. (The following year, Negroponte was succeeded as ambassador by Zalmay Khalizad. Khalizad served until March 2007, when he was replaced by Ryan Crocker.)

The 2005 Elections and After

The IIG had to plan for elections in a short space of time; moreover, it also had inherited a serious security problem. The amount of influence the U.S. embassy held over its actions was unclear. With coalition forces still present in strength in Iraq, the ability of the IIG to claim that it was an independent government was therefore questioned by large numbers of Iraqis and much of the Arab and Muslim world. It was nevertheless able to successfully conduct historic elections in January 2005. Iraqi voters approved a new constitution in October of that year. In December they participated in large numbers in direct elections for a permanent parliament to replace the transitional one elected in January. A Shiite coalition captured the largest block of seats in the December elections, but not an absolute majority. Forming the new permanent government involved months of acrimonious negotiations; the installation of this government, headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, did not take place until May 2006. Because Sunnite parties were largely marginalized during this process, the new government was robbed of some of its legitimacy. Subsequently, al-Maliki's government was further weakened by corruption, continued factional infighting, and its inability to restore stability and reconcile Iraq's warring communities. Meanwhile, the insurgency escalated. It was complicated by a dramatic rise in criminal activities such as kidnapping for ransom and by the ethnic cleansing of mixed neighborhoods, particularly in Baghdad. The latter helped fuel the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since the founding of Israel in 1948. The flood of refugees increased dramatically after the bombing of the Shiite shrine of al-Askariya in Samarra on Feb. 22, 2006; this act sparked a wave of violence between Iraq's two principal Arab communities. By July 2007 some 15% of Iraqis had fled their homes; they included many of the professionals needed to rebuild the shattered nation. There were some 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, 750,000 in Jordan, 100,000 in Egypt, and smaller numbers in Iran, Lebanon, and Turkey. Another 2.3 million were internal refugees within Iraq.

v Only the Kurdish north remained relatively calm. Even there, it was clear that the Kurds would no longer agree to be governed from Baghdad. If they did not receive the high levels of autonomy they demanded, it was possible that they would seek to secede from the state. The idea of Kurdish secession was strongly opposed by neighboring countries with their own restive Kurdish minorities, particularly Turkey.

Elsewhere, fighting involved a dizzying array of mostly local and uncoordinated groups. The various insurgent groups could be loosely characterized as falling into one of three broad categories. First were the predominantly secular Sunnite groups, most with ties to the previous regime. They objected primarily to their loss of status and security under the new order. Second were Iraqi and foreign Islamic militants, some of which established links to Al Qaeda. The bloodthirsty tactics of these groups, which were also predominantly Sunnite, received widespread publicity. Third were Shiites from the south and parts of Baghdad with links to the populist Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army. All of these groups opposed the foreign military presence in Iraq. Nevertheless, the chief victims of the insurgency were not coalition forces, but ordinary Iraqis.

The UN estimated that more than 34,000 Iraqis met violent deaths in 2006 alone, about half of them in Baghdad; subsequently, the toll was even higher. On Mar. 23, 2008, the number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq since the war began reached 4,000. This figure, too, continued to rise, albeit more slowly. Many experts contended that the conflict was not a clear-cut one pitting Sunnites against Shiites, or Iraqi groups against coalition forces. Instead, it was a complex stew of power struggles between numerous ethnic, religious, and tribal groups competing for control of Iraq's resources. This meant that the seeming inability of Iraq's government to draft legislation that would equitably divide Iraq's oil resources among the various groups was one of its most critical failures.


By the time sovereignty was returned to the IIG in 2004, most observers had come to believe that U.S. intelligence had been proved wrong on the issue of the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which had been a major underpinning of the U.S. case for war. This conclusion had been borne out by the final report of the U.S. weapons inspectors released in the fall of 2004. Most experts also rejected the Bush administration's claims that Saddam Hussein had links to Al Qaeda or had been involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks against the United States.

Nevertheless, most Iraqis had welcomed the overthrow of the Iraqi dictator, who had finally been captured by U.S. troops on Dec. 13, 2003, near Tikrit. (Hussein was sentenced to death for human rights abuses by an Iraqi court on Nov. 5, 2006; he was executed on Dec. 31, 2006.)

The 2003 formal combat stage of the Iraq War had illustrated the immense capability of the U.S. military machine. Its aftermath, however, highlighted the problems of attempting to rebuild the political structures of foreign states. The U.S. military was equipped for undertaking a targeted and effective war against Iraq. It was neither equipped nor trained to act as a peacekeeper and state builder in a chaotic environment—particularly with communication hampered by the fact that the United States did not have sufficient Arabic-speaking personnel. The coalition's ongoing involvement in day-to-day actions across Iraq had contributed to a steady rise in both coalition and Iraqi casualties after the combat stage of the war was over. The May 2004 release of photographs showing Iraqi prisoners being abused by U.S. forces in Hussein's most notorious prison, Abu Ghraib, increased resentment of the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

These factors, coupled with a perception of arrogance and insensitivity on the part of the Bush administration, contributed to the general failure of belated U.S. efforts to enlist Arab and broader international support. The decisions by Spain, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Thailand, Mongolia, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Tonga, Iceland, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Hungary, Ukraine, Slovakia, Portugal, Norway, and Singapore to withdraw their troops from Iraq were not very significant militarily. (The Bulgarians later returned, and some of these countries still had a few instructors involved in the NATO-sponsored training of the Iraqi police force.) Nevertheless, they were politically damaging to the U.S. push to increase international involvement in Iraq. More significant was a British decision in 2006 to begin drawing down its troops in Iraq.

Opposition to the war was also mounting in the United States. It was exacerbated by a 2007 report from U.S. auditors that found that much of the money intended for Iraqi reconstruction had been stolen, squandered, or never spent. Even completed projects often later fell victim to sabotage. Criticism of the Bush administration for its failure to adequately plan for the postinvasion phase of the war increased, as did more generalized opposition to the neoconservative doctrine of preemptive war. Iraq was considered pivotal in the restoration of both houses of Congress to Democratic control in the 2006 U.S. midterm elections.

Nevertheless, Bush and Cheney continued to insist that they had made the right decisions concerning Iraq and that the situation there was improving. Rather than reduce or eliminate the U.S. military presence in Iraq, as many Democrats and an increasing number of Republicans demanded, Bush chose to send an additional 30,000 soldiers and Marines to Iraq. What became known as "the surge" raised the U.S. military presence there to about 170,000. This action, coupled with the earlier decision of Sunni tribal chiefs to turn against Al Qaeda and the observation of a cease-fire by al-Sadr's militias, greatly reduced the violence. The strains that Iraq was placing on the already overstretched U.S. military, coupled with the increasing impatience of the U.S. electorate, made any further expansion of the U.S. military presence in Iraq unlikely. Forces were reduced to pre-surge levels by July 2008.

Bush argued that withdrawal would exacerbate sectarian conflict, destabilize the wider Middle East, and create a safe haven for international terrorists. Critics, however, charged that the Iraq War and the chaotic occupation had actually undermined the wider battle on international terrorism. They had fueled extremist recruitment, further damaged the already tarnished reputation of the United States in the Arab and Muslim world, and diverted scarce resources from other, more critical tasks. Many believed that the primary focus should have been on Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda and the Taliban were resurgent.

One of the unintended consequences of the Iraq War was the increased influence of non-Arab, Shiite Iran throughout the Middle East. This development was generally viewed with alarm by the region's Arab, Sunnite regimes. In addition, other forces that the United States had hoped to isolate, such as the Taliban. Hezbollah, and Hamas, had also strengthened. Some believed that one result of a possible U.S. withdrawal might be to turn Iraq into a proxy battlefield for its neighbors, much as Lebanon had been for decades. The situation sparked new efforts by the Bush administration to engage diplomatically with Iraq's neighbors, including Iran.

Whatever the case to be made for a continuing U.S. military presence in Iraq, the neoconservative dream that the war would transform Iraq into a beacon of democracy for the entire Middle East appeared to be in tatters. By August 2008, when it adjourned for a monthlong recess, the Iraqi parliament was still deadlocked over many key reconciliation issues. With the security situation improved and Iraqi forces playing a larger role, there was pressure in both the United States and Iraq for further U.S. troop withdrawals. U.S. forces were reduced to 146,000 by October 2008; 8,000 of these were scheduled to leave by February 2009 and not be replaced. The pace of additional withdrawals was a major issue in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign.

By the time of the November 2008 U.S. elections, Gen. David Petraeus, the former U.S. military commander in Iraq who was widely credited with improving security there, had become head of the U.S. Central Command; he thus had overall responsibility for military operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran as well as Iraq. The UN resolution authorizing the U.S. military presence in Iraq was to expire on Dec. 31, 2008. Therefore, negotiations over a long-term U.S.-Iraqi security pact had begun in March. After significant U.S. concessions, this pact, called the Status of Forces Agreement (SoFA), was overwhelmingly approved by the Iraqi cabinet on Nov. 16, 2008. It required U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraqi cities and towns by mid-2009, and from Iraq by the end of 2011. The Iraqi justice system still did not have general jurisdiction over U.S. troops. When U.S. soldiers and contractors committed serious crimes off base while they were off duty, a joint U.S.-Iraqi committee would decide whether they would face Iraqi justice. The accord also addressed such issues as control of Iraqi airspace and rules for U.S. military operations within Iraq. For example, U.S. forces in Iraq were placed under Iraqi government authority; they could no longer raid Iraqi homes without approval of an Iraqi judge and the Iraqi government. With support from the leading Shiite and Kurdish groups, the legislature was also expected to approve the new SoFA accord. Failure to reach agreement by year's end would have forced the United States to suspend military operations in Iraq, threatening recent security gains. In addition, all assistance and aid and training for Iraqi security forces would be frozen. Britain and Australia, plus El Salvador, Estonia, and Romania, signed similar accords with the Iraqi government allowing their troops to remain in Iraq.

The precise course that Iraq and new U.S. president Barack Obama would take to bring the conflict to a close as the global economy faltered and record oil prices plummeted was yet to be determined. With Iraq's Jan. 31, 2009, provincial elections passing peacefully, plans to withdraw 12,000 of the 135,000 U.S. troops and the remaining 4,000 British soldiers from Iraq by September 2009 were announced. Most of the U.S. troops in Iraq would remain there until after national legislative elections scheduled for late 2009. Obama also said that all U.S. combat missions in Iraq would cease by the end of August 2010. The Iraqi government expressed confidence in its ability to maintain security after all U.S. forces left the country in 2011.

Gareth Stansfield

Further Reading:

Anderson, Jon Lee, The Fall of Baghdad (2004).

Anderson, Liam, and Stansfield, Gareth, The Future of Iraq: Dictatorship, Democracy, or Division? (2004).

Atkinson, Rick, In the Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat in Iraq (2004).

Bamford, James, A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies (2004).

Chandrasekaran, Rajiv, Imperial Life in the Emerald City (2006).

Cordesman, Anthony H., The Iraq War: Strategy, Tactics, and Military Lessons (2003).

Cushman, Thomas, ed., A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq (2005).

Danchev, Alex, and Macmillan, John, eds., The Iraq War and Democratic Politics (2004).

Filkins, Dexter, The Forever War (2008).

Gordon, Michael R., and Trainor, Bernard E., Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq (2006).

Hafez, Mohammed M., Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom (2007).

Jaber, Faleh A., The Shi'ite Movement in Iraq (2004).

Keegan, John, The Iraq War (2004).

Murray, Williamson, and Scales, Robert H., Jr., The Iraq War: A Military History (2003).

Packer, George, The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq (2005).

Priest, Dana, The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America's Military (2003).

Purdum, Todd S., and the Staff of the New York Times, A Time of Our Choosing: America's War in Iraq (2003).

Rich, Frank, The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina (2006).

Ricks, Thomas E., Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003-2005 (2006).

Ricks, Thomas E., The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 (2009).

Robinson, Linda, Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way out of Iraq (2008).

Rosen, Gary, ed., The Right War? The Conservative Debate on Iraq (2005).

Roston, Aram, The Man Who Pushed America to War: The Extraordinary Life, Adventures, and Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi (2008).

Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr., War and the American Presidency (2004).

Shawcross, William, Allies: The U.S., Britain, Europe, and the War in Iraq (2004).

Stiglitz, Joseph E., and Bilmes, Linda J., The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict (2008).

Suskind, Ron, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies since 9/11 (2006).