March 20, 2003 – sixteen years ago today, War with Iraq started. In March 2003, the United States, United Kingdom, Poland, Australia, Spain, Denmark, and Italy began preparing for the invasion of Iraq, with a host of public relations and military moves. In his 17 March 2003 address to the nation, Bush demanded that Saddam and his two sons, Uday and Qusay, surrender and leave Iraq, giving them a 48-hour deadline. But the U.S. began what was termed the Shock & Awe bombing of Iraq the day before the deadline expired. On 18 March 2003, the bombing of Iraq by the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Poland, Spain, Italy and Denmark began. Unlike the first Gulf War, this war had no explicit UN authorization.
The UK House of Commons held a debate on going to war on 18 March 2003 where the government motion was approved 412 to 149. The vote was a key moment in the history of the Blair administration, as the number of government MPs who rebelled against the vote was the greatest since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. Three government ministers resigned in protest at the war, John Denham, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the then Leader of the House of Commons Robin Cook. In a passionate speech to the House of Commons after his resignation, he said, “What has come to trouble me is the suspicion that if the ‘hanging chads’ of Florida had gone the other way and Al Gore had been elected, we would not now be about to commit British troops to action in Iraq.” During the debate, it was stated that the Attorney General had advised that the war was legal under previous UN Resolutions.
Dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom, the initial “Shock & Awe” airstrikes took place on the Presidential Palace in Baghdad on 20 March 2003. The following day, coalition forces launched an incursion into Basra Province from their massing point close to the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. While special forces launched an amphibious assault from the Persian Gulf to secure Basra and the surrounding petroleum fields, the main invasion army moved into southern Iraq, occupying the region and engaging in the Battle of Nasiriyah on 23 March. Massive air strikes across the country and against Iraqi command-and-control threw the defending army into chaos and prevented an effective resistance. On 26 March, the 173rd Airborne Brigade was airdropped near the northern city of Kirkuk, where they joined forces with Kurdish rebels and fought several actions against the Iraqi Army to secure the northern part of the country.
The main body of coalition forces continued their drive into the heart of Iraq and met with little resistance. Most of the Iraqi military was quickly defeated and the coalition occupied Baghdad on 9 April. Other operations occurred against pockets of the Iraqi Army, including the capture and occupation of Kirkuk on 10 April, and the attack on and capture of Tikrit on 15 April. Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and the central leadership went into hiding as the coalition forces completed the occupation of the country. On 1 May President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat operations: this ended the invasion period and began the period of military occupation.
As a reminder, here is the first hour, as the initial airstrikes were being reported, followed by President Bush’s address to the nation that the war had started. And 16 years later . . . ?