Iraq War: Timeline, Beginning and End

Though the Iraq War officially began on March 20th, 2003, it was decades in the making. After 1991’s Gulf War, the United Nations and the U.S. put pressure on Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein as leader and to adhere to sanctions the UN had imposed regarding weapons of mass destruction. Iraq chose not to cooperate with UN weapons inspections, and so a U.S.-led coalition invaded. American troops were scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, finally ending a long-lasting and unpopular war. In this video, looks back at the events that led to the invasion of Iraq, as well as some of the key dates and events that occurred during this conflict.

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History of the Iraq War

It has been called the most unpopular war in America since Vietnam. Welcome to, and today we’ll be learning more about the Iraq war.

Beginning: Gulf War

While the War in Iraq officially began in March 2003, it was decades in the making. After the Gulf War ended in 1991, the United Nations imposed sanctions that prevented Iraq from building or housing weapons of mass destruction. The United States and its allies also pressured Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein as leader.

UN Sanctions

Despite these limitations, Iraq was accused of having access to a number of destructive items, including biological weapons, poison gas and more.

Weapons Inspections

Following 9/11, President George W. Bush and his administration attempted disarmament efforts with renewed gusto. Meanwhile, Iraq did not fully cooperate with UN weapons inspections. By 2002, Bush warned that Iraq would face military action should they not allow these security checks.

War on Terror

In October 2002, the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq was approved by the U.S. Senate, allowing Bush to legally invade Iraq as part of his War on Terror.

Countries Against the Invasion

The U.S. also claimed an interest in installing a democratic regime in Iraq. However, fellow NATO members France, Germany and Canada, in addition to Russia, were all against an invasion of Iraq, and instead wanted to disarm the country through diplomatic negotiations.

Operation Iraqi Freedom Begins

Meanwhile, the U.S. and Tony Blair’s United Kingdom pushed ahead with their plans. On March 20th, 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Almost 250 thousand American soldiers fought beside 45 thousand British soldiers, and more troops from a variety of other nations.

Goals of the Iraq War

With this invasion, the U.S. and UK hoped to end the Hussein regime, eliminate WMDs, remove radical Islamists and give humanitarian aid wherever possible. They also hoped to take control of Iraqi oil, and to install a model democratic government.

Fall of Baghdad

On April 9th, the U.S.-led coalition took the city of Baghdad, and this signaled the end of Saddam Hussein’s reign. A transitional government was then put into place: the Coalition Provisional Authority stayed in office until mid-2004 and held power over the government of Iraq.

“Mission Accomplished”

By May 2003, Bush considered the war a “Mission Accomplished,” and declared victory despite the fact Saddam Hussein had not yet been captured. Insurgent and guerilla attacks increased following that speech and caused a number of U.S. military deaths.

Former Government Leaders Captured

Efforts were then increased to catch former government leaders. Saddam Hussein’s sons were killed, and many important people were captured.

Saddam Hussein Caught

Saddam himself was finally taken at the end of 2003, and this signaled an improvement in conditions as insurgent attacks briefly decreased. Unfortunately, by the spring of 2004, not only did insurgency resume, it also intensified.

Abuse and Abu Ghraib

Violent battles like the First and Second Battles of Fallujah resulted in civilian, police and U.S. military deaths. Meanwhile, support at home and abroad waned as it was revealed that the U.S. military was abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. In fact, this turned out to be a defining moment of the war.

Iraq Elects Permanent Government

Fighting, insurgency, IEDs and suicide bombings continued over the next years. After a general election at the end of 2005, Iraq’s permanent government took control in May 2006. Shortly thereafter, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq was located and killed.

Saddam Hussein Executed

At the end of 2006, amid reports that suggested the situation in Iraq was not progressing, Saddam Hussein’s death sentence was carried out after he was found guilty of crimes against humanity.

Surge Strategy

By 2007, the U.S. began employing a surge strategy and deployed more troops. Meanwhile, allies began withdrawing their forces. The next year, things stabilized and fatalities dropped significantly.

U.S. Forces: Out by End of 2011

2008 also saw the approval of U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement. Most importantly, this deal meant American troops would be removed from Iraq by the end of 2011. An exit strategy was presented in 2009, and in October 2011 President Barack Obama pledged the American presence would end as promised.

UN Sanctions Lifted

Meanwhile, the restrictions placed on Iraq in the 1990s were lifted by the UN, and this gave the Iraqi government control of the country’s oil.

An Unpopular and Costly War

Since it began, the Iraq War cost American taxpayers trillions of dollars, and took countless soldier and civilian lives. It ultimately became one of the longest and most divisive battles in U.S. history.

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