US Military Operation Against Saddam Hussein: ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’
© AP Photo / Victor R. Caivano In this June 18, 2003 file photo, U.S. soldiers prevent former Iraqi soldiers from trying to enter the American headquarters during a deadly demonstration in Baghdad, Iraq.
© AP Photo / Victor R. Caivano
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, US President George W. Bush repeatedly declared that the official policy of the Washington administration was regime change in Iraq and that the White House intended to use all means at its disposal to achieve this goal.
The American leader accused Saddam Hussein of continuing to oppress Shiites and Kurds, and Baghdad of supporting and organizing terrorist groups in Israel and other Middle Eastern countries. The White House also accused Iraq of hiding weapons of mass destruction from UN inspectors.
Iraqi Freedom was a land and air operation by the anti-Iraq coalition forces (the US, the UK and several other countries) aimed at destroying the political regime of Saddam Hussein and seizing key assets (major cities, oil production areas) on the territory of Iraq. Official Washington initially called the military operation in Iraq "Shock and Awe". It was later renamed Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
Official Baghdad dubbed the war "Harb al-Hawasim", the “Final War".
On January 29, 2002, US President George W. Bush delivered his annual State of the Union address in which he used the term "axis of evil" to refer to three countries seeking nuclear weapons - Iran, Iraq and the DPRK. He said the price of indifference towards them would be "catastrophic".
In February, US Secretary of State Colin Powell first spoke of a possible "regime change" in Iraq to "ensure the free development of the Iraqi people.
On September 12, George W. Bush told the UN General Assembly that there is a "grave danger" posed by Saddam Hussein. According to Bush, military action would be inevitable in the event of Baghdad's refusal to comply with UN disarmament demands.
On October 17, the US Senate approved the largest increase in military funding in 20 years, by $37.5 billion to $355.1 billion. Earlier, Bush signed a congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Hussein. The order to create a joint force was given by the Secretary of Defense through the US Joint Chiefs of Staff on December 24, 2002, but by that time the movement of forces and facilities to the Persian Gulf was in full swing. By the time hostilities began, the deployment of naval and air forces was complete.
On January 28, 2003, in an address to the nation, Bush promised to provide evidence that Baghdad was hiding weapons of mass destruction. The US president also offered to lead an anti-Iraq coalition in the event of a military conflict.
On February 5, 2003, US Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the United Nations and stated that the United States had ample evidence of Iraq's production of weapons of mass destruction.
The US Secretary of State demonstrated a vial containing "anthrax" to illustrate the point. The "evidence" presented by the US side did not impress the UN Security Council, and it did not authorize the United States to use force.
On March 17, 2003, President George W. Bush issued an ultimatum giving Saddam Hussein and his sons Uday and Qusay 48 hours to voluntarily leave Iraq, or the United States and the coalition would take military action. The ultimatum expired at 4 a.m. Moscow time on March 20.
On March 19, US President George W. Bush made a televised address and announced the start of a military operation against Iraq. The US said that more than 35 countries around the world supported the decision to use military force against Iraq.
That same day, the US-led coalition forces entered the demilitarized zone on the border between Kuwait and Iraq. The expeditionary force was commanded by General Tommy Franks.
On the night of March 20, 2003, without the approval of the UN Security Council and against the opinion of the world community, the US launched Operation Iraqi Freedom by launching massive, selective, ground-based bomb and missile attacks on Iraq's governmental and military infrastructure.
The naval armada was deployed in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. It consisted of a total of 81 warships, including three aircraft carriers of the US Navy and one of the British Navy, nine surface ships, and eight nuclear submarines; 13 pennant ships were concentrated in the northern Red Sea; seven warships, including two aircraft carriers and four sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) carriers, were concentrated in the eastern Mediterranean. A total of six aircraft carriers with 278 strike aircraft and 36 SLCM carriers with up to 1,100 missiles were concentrated in the region. At the same time, there were approximately 900 missiles directly on ships and up to 200 missiles on supply vehicles.
The deployed air group consisted of more than 700 combat aircraft, including approximately 550 tactical strike aircraft from the US, UK and Australian Air Forces based at air bases in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and 43 strategic bombers from the US Air Force based in the UK, US, and Oman.
Coalition air and naval forces had a total of about 875 combat aircraft and more than 1,000 sea- and air-launched cruise missiles.
The ground contingent of the invasion force numbered 280,000 troops, up to 500 tanks, over 1,200 armored combat vehicles, approximately 900 cannons, MLRS and mortars, over 900 helicopters, and up to 200 surface-to-air missile systems.
They were opposed by the Iraqi army, which numbered 389,000 soldiers, 40,000 to 60,000 paramilitary and police units, and 650,000 reservists. The Iraqi army had about 2,500 tanks (most of them obsolete T-55 and T-62 tanks), about 1,700 BMP-1 and BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, and about 2,500 artillery pieces over 100 mm caliber. The Iraqi Army had about 300 combat aircraft (mostly Mirage F-1EQ, MiG-29, MiG-25, MiG-23, and MiG-21), 100 attack helicopters, and about 300 transport helicopters.
Coalition ground forces, supported by aircraft, advanced rapidly in two converging directions toward the Iraqi capital. The Allies enjoyed complete air superiority and an advantage in the quality of their weapons and the organization of their forces. By April 5, the Americans were in Baghdad and the British were completing the capture of Basra. By April 8 (18 days into the operation), organized resistance by Iraqi forces had ceased and had become pockets of resistance.
Baghdad fell on April 9. Two days later, invasion forces captured Kirkuk and Mosul. On April 14, the Americans completed the storming of Tikrit. On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush announced the end of hostilities and the beginning of the military occupation of Iraq aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
After the intervention of the US forces, Saddam Hussein hid from his pursuers for 249 days in the basement of a house near his hometown of Tikrit (about 200 km from Baghdad). As a result of a special operation, the dictator was found by US soldiers. On December 14, 2003, he was brought to the capital of Iraq and tried on July 1, 2004. On November 5, 2006, the Iraqi High Tribunal found Hussein guilty of killing 148 Shiites in the city of Al-Dujailah in 1982 and sentenced him to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out at 6:00 a.m. local time, and footage of the execution went around the world, causing outrage in Russia and European nations.
The destruction of Iraq's armed forces and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was only the beginning of a long conflict - a guerrilla war began almost immediately in the country. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) caused the most casualties for coalition forces. They were placed on the side of the road and detonated as an American convoy or patrol passed. In 2006, a full-blown civil war began in Iraq.
The number of U.S. troops permanently stationed on Iraqi territory during the war ranged from 100,000 to 150,000. Their numbers peaked in 2007 during the surge of troops to fight the insurgency.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama's main promise was to withdraw troops from Iraq.
Since the beginning of Barack Obama's presidency in the winter of 2009, 90,000 troops have been withdrawn from the country. After August 31, 2010, the number of US contingent was less than 50,000 soldiers.
On August 31, 2010, President Obama gave a speech to the nation announcing the end of the active phase of the military operation in Iraq.
A ceremony held near Baghdad on December 15, 2011 marked the departure of American troops from Iraq and the formal end of the war in that country. During the ceremony, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lowered the flag of the US contingent in Iraq, symbolically marking the end of the mission.
On December 18, 2011, the last US military convoys left Iraq.
At various times, up to 49 countries participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The largest contingents were from the United Kingdom (up to 45,000 troops), Italy (up to 3,200 troops), Poland (up to 2,500 troops), Georgia (up to 2,000 troops), and Australia (up to 2,000 troops).
The maximum size of the US military contingent in Iraq was 170,000 troops.
According to the US Department of Defense, 4,431 servicemen have died and approximately 32,000 have been wounded during the war in Iraq.
Official British casualties were 179 soldiers, 136 of whom were killed in action.
According to some reports, the rest of the coalition countries lost 139 people.
Figures on Iraqi casualties vary. The American media give different figures for Iraq's total losses in the war: from 100,000 to 300,000 people, including civilians. At the same time, according to the World Health Organization, as many as 223,000 Iraqis died as a result of the war between 2003 and 2006 alone.
International experts estimate that the war in Iraq has claimed the lives of between 1 and 1.4 million of Iraq's citizens.