The Iraq War was a protracted armed conflict
that began in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq by a United States-led coalition that overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein. The conflict continued for much of the next decade as an insurgency emerged to oppose the occupying forces and the post-invasion Iraqi government. An estimated 151,000 to 600,000 or more Iraqis were killed in the first 3–4 years of conflict. The US became re-involved in 2014 at the head of a new coalition; the insurgency and many dimensions of the civil armed conflict continue. The invasion occurred as part of a declared war against international terrorism and its sponsors under the administration of US President George W. Bush following the September 11 terror attacks.
The invasion began on 20 March 2003, with the US, joined by the United Kingdom and several coalition allies, launching a "shock and awe" bombing campaign. Iraqi forces were quickly overwhelmed as U.S. forces swept through the country. The invasion led to the collapse of the Ba'athist government; Saddam was captured during Operation Red Dawn in December of that same year and executed by a military court three years later. However, the power vacuum following Saddam's demise and the mismanagement of the occupation led to widespread sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis, as well as a lengthy insurgency against U.S. and coalition forces. Many violent insurgent groups were supported by Iran and al-Qaeda in Iraq. The United States responded with a troop surge in 2007. The winding down of U.S. involvement in Iraq accelerated under President Barack Obama. The US formally withdrew all combat troops from Iraq by December 2011.
The Bush administration based its rationale for the war principally on the assertion that Iraq, which had been viewed by the US as a rogue state since the Persian Gulf War, possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and that the Iraqi government posed an immediate threat to the United States and its coalition allies. Select U.S. officials accused Saddam of harbouring and supporting al-Qaeda, while others cited the desire to end a repressive dictatorship and bring democracy to the people of Iraq. After the invasion, no substantial evidence was found to verify the initial claims about WMDs, while claims of Iraqi officials collaborating with al-Qaeda were proven false. The rationale and misrepresentation of US prewar intelligence faced heavy criticism both domestically and internationally, with President Bush declining from his record-high approval ratings following 9/11 to become one of the most unpopular presidents in US history.
In the aftermath of the invasion,
Iraq held multi-party elections in 2005. Nouri al-Maliki became Prime Minister in 2006 and remained in office until 2014. The al-Maliki government enacted policies that were widely seen as having the effect of alienating the country's Sunni minority and worsening sectarian tensions. In the summer of 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) launched a military offensive in Northern Iraq and declared a worldwide Islamic caliphate, eliciting another military response from the United States and its allies. The Iraq War caused over a hundred thousand civilian deaths and tens of thousands of military deaths (see estimates below). The majority of deaths occurred as a result of the insurgency and civil conflicts between 2004 and 2007.
Strong international opposition to the Saddam Hussein regime
began after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The international community condemned the invasion, and in 1991 a military coalition led by the United States launched the Gulf War to expel Iraq from Kuwait. Following the Gulf War, the US and its allies tried to keep Saddam in check with a policy of containment. This policy involved numerous economic sanctions by the UN Security Council; the enforcement of Iraqi no-fly zones declared by the US and the UK to protect the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan and Shias in the south from aerial attacks by the Iraqi government; and ongoing inspections to ensure Iraq's compliance with United Nations resolutions concerning Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
The inspections were carried out by
the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). UNSCOM, in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, worked to ensure that Iraq destroyed its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and facilities. In the decade following the Gulf War, the United Nations passed 16 Security Council resolutions calling for the complete elimination of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Member states communicated their frustration over the years that Iraq was impeding the work of the special commission and failing to take seriously its disarmament obligations. Iraqi officials harassed the inspectors and obstructed their work, and in August 1998 the Iraqi government suspended cooperation with the inspectors completely, alleging that the inspectors were spying for the US. The spying allegations were later substantiated.
In October 1998, removing the Iraqi government became official U.S. foreign policy with enactment of the Iraq Liberation Act. The act provided $97 million for Iraqi "democratic opposition organizations" to "establish a program to support a transition to democracy in Iraq." This legislation contrasted with the terms set out in United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, which focused on weapons and weapons programs and made no mention of regime change. One month after the passage of the Iraq Liberation Act, the US and UK launched a bombardment campaign of Iraq called Operation Desert Fox. The campaign's express rationale was to hamper Saddam Hussein's government's ability to produce chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, but U.S. intelligence personnel also hoped it would help weaken Saddam's grip on power.
With the election of George W. Bush as president in 2000, the US moved towards a more aggressive Iraq policy. The Republican Party's campaign platform in the 2000 election called for "full implementation" of the Iraq Liberation Act as "a starting point" in a plan to "remove" Saddam. However, little formal movement towards an invasion occurred until the September 11 attacks.
- DATE: 20 March 2003 – 18 December 2011 (8 years, 8 months and 28 days).
- LOCATION: Iraq
- Invasion and occupation of Iraq.
- Overthrow of Ba'ath Party government and execution of Saddam Hussein.
- Iraqi insurgency, emergence of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and Sectarian Violence and another civil war.
- Subsequent reduction in violence and depletion of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
- Establishment of democratic elections and formation of new Shia led government.
- Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011.
- Stronger Iranian influence in Iraq.
- Escalation of sectarian insurgency after U.S. withdrawal leading to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the successor of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
- Iraqi Civil War (2014–present).
- Return of US forces to Iraq in 2014.
Lancet survey** (March 2003 – July 2006): 654,965 (95% CI: 392,979–942,636)
Iraq Family Health Survey*** (March 2003 – July 2006): 151,000 (95% CI: 104,000–223,000)
PLOS Medicine Study**: (March 2003 – June 2011): 405,000 (95% CI: 48,000–751,000), in addition to 55,000 deaths missed due to emigration.
Documented deaths from violence:
Iraq Body Count (2003 – 14 December 2011): 103,160–113,728 civilian deaths recorded, and 12,438 new deaths added from the Iraq War Logs
Associated Press (March 2003 – April 2009): 110,600.
- * "injured, diseased, or other medical": required medical air transport. UK number includes "aeromed evacuations"
- ** Total excess deaths include all additional deaths due to increased lawlessness, degraded infrastructure, poorer healthcare, etc.
- *** Violent deaths only - does not include excess deaths due to increased lawlessness, poorer healthcare, etc.