Friday, 10 January 2014

U.S.-Iraq War

U.S.-Iraq War, military action begun in 2003 with a United States invasion of Iraq, then ruled by the authoritarian regime of Saddam Hussein. The invasion led to a protracted U.S. occupation of Iraq and the birth of a guerrilla insurgency against the occupation. The resulting destabilization of Iraq also created conditions for a civil war to break out between Iraq’s majority Shia Muslim population and its minority Sunni Muslim population. In addition to attempting to quell the insurgency, U.S. forces also found themselves trying to police the civil war. By 2007 the U.S. war in Iraq had lasted longer than U.S. involvement in World War II.
U.S. president George W. Bush had openly threatened war for months prior to the U.S. invasion. Bush argued that in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Saddam Hussein’s regime posed a grave threat to U.S. security and peace in the region because of its alleged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and links to international terrorism. Subsequent disclosures by former high-level officials within the Bush administration, however, revealed that Bush had been preparing for the use of military force against Iraq almost as soon as he took office in January 2001. (A call for the ouster of Hussein had been official U.S. policy ever since Congress passed, and President Bill Clinton signed, the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, although passage of the act did not commit the United States to the use of military force.)
Bush launched the war with an invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. The previous day a U.S. air strike attempted but failed to assassinate Hussein. U.S. and British forces (and smaller numbers of Australian and Polish soldiers) invaded Iraq from Kuwait. They faced an Iraqi military of less than 400,000 troops, the backbone of which was ten armored and mechanized divisions. These divisions were quickly devastated by U.S. air attacks. Major combat engagements ended about three weeks later, after U.S. troops entered Baghdād, the capital of Iraq, and toppled the Hussein regime. The military campaign was short and one-sided, but hard fought.
In all, 138 U.S. service personnel were killed from the start of the war until President Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1, 2003. Of these, 115 died in combat while the rest died due to traffic accidents, drowning, illness, or other causes. However, coalition forces continued to suffer casualties after May 1 as an urban guerrilla resistance began to develop.
By late April 2003, a serious and persistent guerrilla struggle had been launched in the Sunni Arab heartland against the foreign military presence in the country. Abetted by a U.S. decision to dissolve the Iraqi army and the U.S. failure to stop widespread looting, the guerrilla movement grew in strength and popular support in the center-north of the country, making it impossible for the United States to withdraw most of its troops in summer and fall of 2003, as the Department of Defense had intended. See also Guerrilla Warfare.
The total U.S. military death toll had doubled by late August 2004 and reached more than 4,000 following the fifth anniversary of the invasion. The year 2007 was the deadliest year for U.S. forces since the war began, with 894 U.S. soldiers killed in that year alone. The number of U.S. wounded totaled about 30,000 by March 2008, the beginning of the sixth year of the U.S. occupation. Other member nations of the coalition that suffered casualties included the United Kingdom, Italy, Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria, Spain, Slovakia, El Salvador, the Netherlands, Thailand, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, and Australia.
Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Iraqis have been killed in the war, although U.S. military officials do not publicly keep a count of Iraqi insurgent or civilian casualties. A number of studies and estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths have arrived at radically different figures. For example, the British-based Iraq Body Count, which bases its casualty figures on media reports, hospital records, and other sources, reported that the number of dead Iraqi civilians ranged from 82,000 to 90,000 by March 2008. The deaths were of noncombatants killed by military or paramilitary forces. However, in October 2006, a study published in a British medical journal, The Lancet, by a team of U.S. epidemiologists and Iraqi physicians estimated that about 655,000 people had died in Iraq as a result of the war, with about 600,000 deaths directly attributable to violence.
Both the U.S. and the Iraqi governments disputed The Lancet study, but the researchers based at Johns Hopkins University defended their results. They said the study was based on a widely accepted scientific method known as cluster sampling and that a majority of the deaths in the sample were substantiated by death certificates. Similar cluster sample studies have been accepted as valid in other troubled regions, such as Darfur.
In January 2008, researchers with the World Health Organization and the Iraqi Ministry of Health in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that 151,000 Iraqis, both civilians and fighters, died violently from March 2003 to June 2006. The study was reportedly the largest to date because it was based on a survey of 10,000 Iraqi households.
The war also led to a refugee crisis in Iraq. By the end of 2007 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that 2.3 million Iraqis had fled their country and another 2.3 million had been displaced from their homes within Iraq.
The seeds for the U.S.-Iraq War were sown by the 1991 Persian Gulf War, which took place during the administration of U.S. president George Herbert Walker Bush, George W. Bush’s father. During the Persian Gulf War, allied forces evicted Iraqi troops from Kuwait, which Iraq invaded in 1990. After allied forces defeated the Iraqi army, armed rebellion against Hussein’s rule broke out among the Shia Muslims of the south, who had suffered years of oppression under Hussein’s Sunni Muslim regime (see Shia Islam; Sunni Islam). The Bush administration had encouraged Iraqis to rebel in the hope that Hussein would be overthrown, but removing him from power was not an explicit objective of the allies. The administration was wary of involving itself in the fighting inside Iraq and was apprehensive about the consequences of a Shia victory. It decided not to intervene. Lacking international aid, the rebellion was crushed by Hussein's remaining forces. Many Iraqi Shia never forgave the United States for what they saw as a betrayal.
A UN Weapons Inspections
As part of the cease-fire arrangements after the Persian Gulf War, the United Nations (UN) Security Council ordered Iraq to eliminate its programs to develop biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. A system of UN inspections was established to oversee this process. Over the next decade UN inspectors made important strides in disarming Iraq, but faced resistance from Iraqi authorities to their requests that all information about the destruction of stockpiles be made available. Iraq denied inspectors access to some sites within the country, and much of the information Iraq provided about its weapons programs was viewed as incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading. Some inspectors believed that Iraq had destroyed 85 percent of its stockpiles, and in retrospect they were more nearly correct, but others remained suspicious that Iraq was hoarding biological and chemical weapons or capabilities. See also Chemical and Biological Warfare.
Frustrated by Iraq’s apparent refusal to cooperate, U.S. president Bill Clinton ordered a series of air strikes in 1998 aimed at destroying Iraq’s weapons-making capability. UN weapons inspectors were withdrawn shortly before the United States and Britain carried out three days of air attacks. Following the air strikes, Iraq resisted the resumption of UN inspections. No inspections were conducted for four years, a development that led to considerable uncertainty in Washington about the status of Iraq’s weapons programs.
B Making the Case for War
B1 “Neoconservatives” and the Bush Doctrine
Long before President George W. Bush took office in 2001, elements in or close to the Republican Party had called repeatedly for firmer U.S. steps against Iraq, including a war if necessary to force a regime change. One such group authored a white paper in 1996 called A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, which was later sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of Israel’s Likud Party. It advocated a war against Iraq as a way of undermining Syria and of moderating the Shia Hezbollah of southern Lebanon, arguing that these actions would pave the way for peace and stability in a notoriously unstable part of the world. The paper came out of discussions among foreign policy experts, including Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Robert Loewenberg, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser, many of whom later occupied important positions in the Bush administration.
In 1997 some of the same individuals joined the newly formed Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a Washington think tank that argued openly for the United States to play a dominant role, militarily and diplomatically, in the world. The PNAC wrote a letter to President Clinton in January 1998 calling for “the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime” from power and urging Clinton to use “a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts” to accomplish this. The letter warned that if Hussein acquired weapons of mass destruction, “the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will all be put at hazard.” Iraq’s oil reserves are estimated to be the second largest in the world, after Saudi Arabia. Signatories to the letter included Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, William Kristol, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Donald Rumsfeld.
A month later the same signatories joined a broader group of foreign policy and defense experts known as the Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf in another open letter to President Clinton. This letter was more explicit in calling for the use of military force, including a call for a “systematic air campaign” to destroy Iraq’s Republican Guard divisions. These efforts helped lead to the Iraq Liberation Act, passed by Congress and signed by Clinton in 1998, which made regime change in Iraq official U.S. policy. In the Bush administration of three years later, Wolfowitz would become deputy secretary of defense, with Rumsfeld as his boss. Abrams would become a National Security Council adviser on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Bolton would be an undersecretary of state and then ambassador to the United Nations. Khalilzad served as ambassador to post-Taliban Afghanistan and then to post-Saddam Iraq.
Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith, Abrams, and others in their circle maintained that by democratizing Middle East countries with authoritarian regimes, the chances were greater of promoting peace in that region. In addition, many of these advisers were politically sympathetic both to the right wing of the Republican Party and to the Likud Party in Israel. Many had been, or their parents had been, on the political left, but they had typically become Republicans in the late 1970s or in the 1980s, driven by a belief that the Democratic Party was soft on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and that the American left was increasingly sympathetic to the Palestinians at the expense of Israel. Because of their turn to the right, they were known as neoconservatives. Many of the so-called neoconservatives, however, reject this label.
Because of their key positions in the Department of Defense, including in Vice President Dick Cheney’s own national security council, and in the Near East and South Asia division’s Office of Special Plans under Feith, the neoconservatives were in a position to influence Bush administration policy on Iraq. Some critics accused them of being overly eager to believe shaky intelligence on alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs provided by expatriate politician Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress, much of which was later found to be false.
This circle was not the only one interested in an Iraq war. George W. Bush repeatedly said in the late 1990s and in 2000 that among his aspirations in life was to “take out” Saddam Hussein, who he believed was behind an assassination attempt on his father. Cheney had signed the 1998 PNAC letter calling for regime change, even though as secretary of defense in the early 1990s he had opposed ousting Hussein by sending U.S. forces on to Baghdād from Kuwait, saying that it would be a mistake to be “bogged down” in a quagmire. Rumsfeld reportedly saw ousting Hussein and establishing an Iraqi government aligned with U.S. interests as the key to changing the entire Middle East region. Moreover, by September 2002, the Bush administration had outlined a new foreign policy strategy, known as the Bush Doctrine, which called for preemptive war to prevent terrorists or state sponsors of terrorism from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. The Bush Doctrine also held that the United States would act unilaterally if necessary to guarantee that the United Sates remained the sole superpower in the world.
In contrast, three major wings of the Republican Party warned against an Iraq war. The so-called realists who had dominated the foreign policy establishment of President George H. W. Bush in the early 1990s, such as former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and former secretary of state James Baker, publicly argued against an invasion of Iraq. Likewise, isolationists such as Patrick Buchanan opposed such a war, as did the libertarian wing of the party, which fears big government.
B2 Contingency Plans for War
Ever since the Persian Gulf War, the U.S. military had contingency plans to invade Iraq. Military planning began in earnest, however, in the months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon, near Washington, D.C. (see September 11 Attacks). The U.S. intelligence community quickly concluded that the attacks were the work of al-Qaeda, an international terrorist organization led by Saudi Arabian millionaire Osama bin Laden and based in Afghanistan. In October, a U.S.-led international coalition invaded Afghanistan and within weeks overthrew the ruling Taliban regime, which had supported al-Qaeda. Emboldened by the success, the Bush administration turned its attention to Iraq.
President Bush began to make the case publicly for military action against Iraq in his January 2002 State of the Union speech in which he identified Iraq as a member of an “axis of evil,” along with neighboring Iran and North Korea. All three nations, Bush said, were threatening global security. The Bush administration viewed Iraq as a rogue state and Hussein as a regional troublemaker in the volatile Middle East. Iraq, like many Arab states, opposed Israel, a U.S. ally, and supported the Palestinian cause (see Arab-Israeli Conflict).
However, various insider accounts later disclosed that the Bush administration’s plans for war with Iraq began in early 2001. According to Paul O’Neill, the administration’s former treasury secretary, planning for war with Iraq began almost as soon as Bush took office. Bush’s former head of counterterrorism, Richard Clarke, later wrote that immediately after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bush approached him with a demand to learn if Iraq could be linked to the attacks. And the day of the attacks Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz all raised the question of whether to attack Iraq, not just Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, with Rumsfeld calling it “an opportunity,” according to an account by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward.
By July 2002 the Bush administration had decided that military action against Iraq was inevitable, according to a British government memo, known as the Downing Street Memo after it was leaked to a British newspaper. Although the Bush administration was publicly proclaiming at the time that war was “a last resort,” the memo revealed that the Bush administration had “no patience” for going through the United Nations and that detailed military planning was taking place between the U.S. and British military commanders. The Downing Street Memo stated: “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD [weapons of mass destruction]. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”
B3 Prewar Intelligence Claims
The stated concern of the administration was over Iraq’s alleged program to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The Bush administration asserted that Iraq possessed large stockpiles of lethal chemical weapons, had accelerated its program to make biological weapons, and was actively seeking materials to make nuclear weapons. Key figures such as Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice refrained from qualifying these claims. In August 2002 Cheney told a meeting of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that “there is no doubt” that Iraq under Hussein was amassing weapons of mass of destruction to use against the United States and its allies. And in September he told a Republican fundraising meeting in Casper, Wyoming, that “we now have irrefutable evidence” that Hussein had reconstituted a nuclear weapons program. The administration claimed that with such an arsenal, Hussein could provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for use against the United States, while also implying that Hussein was linked with al-Qaeda. In all, Bush administration officials made about 935 claims relating to Iraq’s possession of WMD and ties to al-Qaeda, according to a database compiled by the Center for Public Integrity.
In speeches and reports Bush and his administration made the case for preemptive military action to avoid such a potential threat. “If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long,” Bush said in June 2002. In his January 2003 State of the Union address, Bush cited reports that Hussein had attempted to buy “significant quantities of uranium from Africa” as well as special aluminum tubes in order to produce nuclear weapons. The charge that Iraq sought uranium from Africa was later to reverberate in the Valerie Plame Wilson affair. In the aftermath, it became clear that both allegations were incorrect. The allegation that Iraq sought uranium from Africa was based on forged documents. The charge that it had bought aluminum tubes for use in a nuclear weapons program was disputed at the time by experts in the administration’s Department of Energy and was later found to be baseless by weapons inspectors following the U.S. invasion. Another claim that Iraq was developing mobile biological weapons laboratories was based on the claims of an Iraqi defector known as Curve Ball, but his alleged eyewitness description of a biological weapons site was later discredited by satellite photographs of the site.
Opponents of military action against Iraq challenged the Bush administration’s case. They argued that an invasion to overthrow Hussein would pull resources away from the U.S. campaign against terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the war in Afghanistan. Critics pointed to an October 2002 assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which concluded that Hussein was unlikely to cooperate with terrorist groups unless he felt that his regime was in peril. Critics also said that information about Iraq’s weapons programs was uncertain, that Iraq could be pressured to readmit UN weapons inspectors, and that the Hussein regime did not present an imminent threat. War opponents also argued that the Bush administration had not developed an effective exit strategy under which U.S. troops could be withdrawn from Iraq after the war.
Critics of the contention that the Hussein regime maintained ties with al-Qaeda, and in particular with one of its leading members, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, appeared to have been vindicated in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion. In September 2006 the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Republican senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, concluded that there was no evidence linking the Iraqi government to al-Qaeda, the September 11 attacks, or Zarqawi. It was also shown that information provided by a suspected al-Qaeda detainee alleging a connection between Hussein and al-Qaeda was obtained under torture in an Egyptian prison. The detainee later recanted his statements. In March 2008 the Department of Defense released a study that concluded there was no direct connection between the Saddam Hussein regime and al-Qaeda. The study was based on an analysis of 600,000 Iraqi government documents seized by U.S. forces after the invasion and the interrogations of former top officials in Hussein’s government.
Opposition to a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was widespread among European political leaders, but with the United States still shaken by the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration won the domestic debate. In October 2002 the U.S. Congress voted to authorize the use of military force to defend the United States against “the continuing threat posed by Iraq.” The Bush administration had pushed for the vote to be held prior to congressional elections in November, which placed increased political pressure on the lawmakers to support military action against Iraq. In the Senate the resolution passed by a 77-23 margin. The Republican majority in the Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure, with only 1 Republican and 1 independent joining 21 Democrats in opposition. In the House the vote also largely followed party lines with 6 Republicans joining 127 Democrats in opposing the authorization.
C International Debate
After receiving congressional support for military action against Iraq, the Bush administration turned to the UN. British prime minister Tony Blair, the White House’s staunchest foreign ally in its campaign against Hussein, had urged Bush to seek UN approval. Blair believed that he needed UN backing in order to build support in Britain for the operation.
Most UN member states, however, hoped to avoid a conflict by pressuring Iraq to let UN inspectors return. On October 8 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1441, stating that Iraq was in “material breach of its obligations” for failing to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors. The Security Council measure demanded that Iraq provide a complete accounting of its weapons programs and unrestricted access to all buildings, equipment, and records. The resolution also called for Iraq to allow UN inspectors to transport Iraqi scientists and their families outside of Iraq. That way the scientists would not be subject to intimidation by the Iraqi government when they were interviewed. In November, Iraq agreed to allow inspectors to reenter the country and resume their work.
The renewed weapons inspections were in some ways quite successful. Iraq granted access to former and suspected weapons sites that had previously been concealed. The Iraqi government also agreed to destroy certain missiles that were capable of hitting targets more than 150 km (90 mi) away (a range prohibited by previous disarmament agreements). On the other hand, Iraq did not facilitate private interviews with Iraqi scientists and weapons makers, and the government was not forthcoming about the details of its earlier weapons programs.
Although inspectors visited 100 of 600 sites designated as suspicious by Western powers, they found nothing of interest. On March 7, Mohammad ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told the UN Security Council: “After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.” An earlier March 6 working paper by the UN weapons inspectors concluded with regard to chemical and biological weapons, “No proscribed activities, or the result of such activities from the period of 1998-2002 have, so far, been detected through inspections.”
The UN Security Council was sharply divided about what action to take next and faced an impasse. In order for a Security Council resolution to pass, 9 out of 15 members must vote for it. However, any of the 5 permanent members may veto it. The United States and Britain (permanent members of the Security Council) and Spain (a nonpermanent member) favored a second resolution that would have set a March 17, 2003, deadline for Iraq to disarm or face the consequences. But France, Russia, and China (permanent members) and Germany (nonpermanent member) were opposed, arguing that it was too soon to give up on the inspections. Most of the other nonpermanent members also opposed military action. The opposition of France and Germany, longtime U.S. allies, particularly troubled the Bush administration.
This was not the only foreign policy complication that the United States faced. The United States had hoped to open a northern front against Iraq from neighboring Turkey. The plan was to use Turkish soil as a staging area for a drive south by the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division, which would complement a larger ground attack mounted from Kuwait, in the southeast. However, the newly elected Turkish government was reluctant to agree to this due to overwhelming opposition from the Turkish public. The United States offered $6 billion in grants and additional billions in credits if Turkey agreed to its plan, but Turkey’s parliament rejected the plan. Turkey’s decision represented a major setback for the Bush administration, not only because it interfered with U.S. military strategy. It also deprived the United States of the support of a largely Muslim nation, which would have helped lend additional credibility to an invasion of Iraq in the Islamic world.
D Last Moves
Faced with opposition in the Security Council and reluctance on the part of Turkey, the United States and Britain remained determined to take military action and assembled a coalition force in Kuwait. The coalition force consisted of a U.S. force that initially numbered about 200,000 personnel (eventually expanding to 290,000), of which 100,000 formed the invasion force. In addition, there were about 50,000 British personnel, about 2,000 Australian troops, and about 200 Polish soldiers. Coalition planners felt that if there was to be a war, it was better to have it sooner than later. A major factor was the weather: In the summer, the temperature in Iraq can soar to more than 50°C (120°F), which would hamper military operations.
In the week leading up to the war the Bush administration continued to press its claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and that it was allied with al-Qaeda. In an appearance on the Meet the Press television show, Vice President Cheney claimed that Hussein had “a long-standing relationship” with al-Qaeda and had “in fact” reconstituted a nuclear weapons program. Cheney also predicted that U.S. forces would “be greeted as liberators.”
On March 17 in a nationally televised speech, Bush said, “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq government continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” Bush gave Saddam Hussein and his immediate family 48 hours to leave the country or face a military attack. It was later disclosed that Hussein had offered to leave Iraq and go into exile but under conditions that were not acceptable to the Bush administration. As UN weapons inspectors evacuated Iraq on March 18, Hans Blix, head of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), indicated that he believed the inspectors should have been given more time to investigate Iraq’s weapons programs.
On March 19 the United States conducted an air strike in an attempt to kill Hussein. It involved an attack on the Dora Farms area of Baghdād where Hussein was believed to be holding a meeting in a bunker. After the war, the U.S. military determined that there was no bunker at this location. A number of civilian casualties resulted from this attack.
The war began on March 20. The invasion of Iraq, dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom by the White House, was led by General Tommy Franks, then head of the U.S. Central Command.
The military plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom differed from that for the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Unlike the Persian Gulf War, coalition military commanders did not plan for a long bombing campaign prior to introducing ground forces. The plan was for the air campaign and a ground attack to begin nearly simultaneously. In the 2003 war the United States also used a far smaller ground force than it used in 1991. When the war began, the coalition ground force consisted primarily of two U.S. Army divisions, a Marine Expeditionary Force, and a British Armored Division. This approach derived from a new way of thinking about warfare advocated by U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld sought to move away from the traditional U.S. war strategy of deploying huge numbers of infantry forces and tank columns to overwhelm the adversary. Instead, he envisioned a more mobile military that would use U.S. airpower to stagger the enemy. The strategy called for more flexible conventional forces and a larger role for special operations troops in winning battles on the ground. Theoretically, Rumsfeld’s military would be more responsive to situations requiring U.S. military action.
Considerable debate about this approach took place among military specialists in the United States. It broke with the doctrine of overwhelming force used by U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell when he planned the Persian Gulf War as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 12 years earlier. As a result, some Persian Gulf War commanders asserted that the ground force was too small given the need to protect supply lines from Kuwait, secure Baghdād, and occupy much of the country. Rumsfeld insisted the force was more than adequate since the coalition also had unrivaled control of the air, superior military technology, and, Rumsfeld assumed, the cooperation of much of the Iraqi population. The U.S. military made much greater use of precise, high-tech weaponry than in the Persian Gulf War. In 2003 it used satellite-guided bombs and advanced drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) for reconnaissance. In addition, according to most reports, the Iraqi military had grown much weaker over the years, although it still consisted of about 400,000 soldiers.
To hedge their bets, U.S. military planners arranged for additional forces to flow into Kuwait as the battle began. These forces included the 1st Armored Division and the 4th Infantry Division, which the United States had originally hoped to deploy in Turkey. These units would act as reinforcements if the fighting proved to be tough or act as peacekeepers if a victory was quickly achieved.
After the March 19 bombing attack, which was intended to kill Hussein, Iraqi forces responded by firing surface-to-surface missiles at U.S. bases in Kuwait. Iraqis also set fire to a small number of oil wells in the Ar Rumaylah oil field in southeastern Iraq. Coalition officials were concerned that Iraq might set the entire oil field ablaze. This would have been a major setback for the coalition, which wanted to preserve Iraq's oil wells to benefit a future Iraqi government and to help pay for Iraq’s reconstruction. As a result, plans for the allied ground invasion were advanced one day and took place on March 20 before the main air assault, which came a day later.
On the night of March 21, as coalition forces streamed into southern Iraq, the United States unleashed air strikes against Baghdād. The air attack, referred to as a “shock and awe” campaign, was intended to provoke an Iraqi surrender early in the conflict. Bombs destroyed key targets in the capital, but the bombardment failed to lead to the collapse of the Hussein regime. Also on March 21, U.S. special operations forces seized two airfields in western Iraq in an effort to prevent the Iraqis from attacking Israel with Scud missiles, as they had done during the Persian Gulf War. The Bush administration feared that if Israel entered the war, it would be more difficult to maintain the quiet support of some Arab and Muslim nations. No Scud missiles were found.
A Southern Front
The initial goal of the U.S. Army ground force was to secure a bridge west of An Nāşirīyah, in southern Iraq. After that, the Army planned to conduct a feint east of the Euphrates River to give the Iraqis the impression that the Army planned to advance up Iraqi highways 1 and 8, the major routes leading to Baghdād. The main Army force, in fact, would stay well west of highways 1 and 8 and would advance toward the capital through the Karbalā’ Gap, a narrow area west of the central Iraqi city of Karbalā’. U.S. Army forces involved in this phase of the invasion included the 3rd Infantry Division, the 101st Airborne Division, and the 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment. A portion of the 82nd Airborne was initially held back as a reserve but later committed to the Army attack.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Marines and British forces carried out a supporting attack to the east, in which they established control over the Ar Rumaylah oil field. The British took control of the port of Umm Qaşr and eventually the southern city of Al Başrah. The Marines were then to advance past An Nāşirīyah on several courses before moving on Baghdād.
A1 Expectations and Reality
Allied military strategy in Iraq was based on several expectations. All along, the intent of coalition commanders had been to bypass most of the major cities in the south and focus on taking Baghdād, the seat of Hussein’s power, where the regime appeared determined to make a final stand. Six of Hussein’s elite Republican Guard divisions guarded the approaches to the city, while a division of the Special Republican Guards, among other security forces, protected its interior. Military planners expected that advancing forces would be met by grateful, cheering Iraqis, especially among the Shia Muslims of the south, who had been long oppressed by the Hussein regime. In addition, coalition commanders also believed that Iraq would use chemical or biological weapons as U.S. troops closed in on Baghdād. For this reason, U.S. soldiers had received vaccinations against smallpox and anthrax before the war and donned protective suits as they advanced.
None of these expectations proved accurate. The Hussein regime sought to block the coalition advance by ordering paramilitary-style attacks using fighters based in An Nāşirīyah, An Najaf, and other southern towns. These irregular troops, in fact, played a more important role in Iraq’s strategy than did the Republican Guard. The paramilitary’s presence in the south, combined with the memory of the U.S. failure to support the 1991 Shia rebellion, discouraged the population there from welcoming coalition forces and rising up against Hussein. In addition, Iraqi forces never used chemical or biological weapons during the fighting, and none were found in the months following the war.
A2 Change in Tactics
The unexpected Iraqi strategy led to a change of tactics on the coalition side. The coalition decided that it needed to defeat the paramilitary forces in and around the southern cities before taking Baghdād. This delayed for several days the push toward Baghdād, but military officials said the step was necessary to protect the coalition’s lengthening supply lines.
By and large, the coalition forces proved adept at urban warfare in the southern cities. But they faced setbacks and confusion. For example, an Army maintenance unit lost its way and blundered into an enemy-controlled area of An Nāşirīyah on March 23. After a firefight, 11 U.S. soldiers were killed. On March 29 a suicide bomber in the outskirts of An Najaf killed four U.S. soldiers. On March 31, near Karbalā’, American soldiers fired on a van after it failed to slow down at a checkpoint, killing ten civilians, five of them children.
B Northern Front
Coalition forces were unable to invade northern Iraq from Turkey, but stabilizing the north was critical to the war’s success. Kurdish forces, whose leaders pledged their support for the U.S. invasion, controlled much of the north.
On March 26 more than 1,000 American soldiers from the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade parachuted into northern Iraq. They quickly secured an airfield about 300 km (about 200 mi) north of Baghdād. Controlling the airfield allowed the United States to use air transport to deploy tanks and other fighting vehicles in the area. The main aim was to stabilize the region and discourage ethnic violence and Turkish intervention. But the forces were also able to open a second, northern front.
Encountering very little resistance, Kurdish fighters and a small number of U.S. Special Operations forces took control of the northern city of Kirkūk on April 10. Iraqi army units retreated in the face of the coalition advance after confronting an uprising among the city’s Kurds. Kurdish and U.S. forces continued to advance rapidly, taking Mosul, the largest city of the north, on April 11. In the absence of local government or police forces, Mosul descended into chaos, with rampant looting and violence.
C Fall of Baghdād
In early April the U.S. force, its supply lines secured, moved in on Baghdād. On April 4 Army forces seized Saddam International Airport, west of the city, and renamed it Baghdād International Airport. On April 5 a battalion from the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division drove through Baghdād in a raid. More than 1,000 Iraqis were reported killed during the operation, according to a U.S. estimate. On April 7 the 2nd Brigade attacked into central Baghdād. The same day, U.S. B-1 bombers dropped four 900-kg (2,000-lb) bombs on a building in western Baghdād where Hussein was believed to be hiding. Local residents later reported that neither Hussein nor his family were present at the time of the attack, which leveled the building and reportedly killed 14 civilians.
Nevertheless, Hussein’s grip on power was gone. U.S. Marines arrived in Baghdād on April 9 and helped Iraqi civilians tear down a massive statue of Saddam Hussein that towered over a major city square. Within a few days Marines captured Tikrīt, a city north of Baghdād and Hussein’s ancestral home, with little struggle.
With the fall of government control came widespread looting in many cities, particularly Baghdād. Overstretched U.S. forces were unable to stop the looting, undermining two key aspects of U.S. strategy. First, while most Iraqis were glad to see Hussein deposed, the disorder and lack of services undermined popular support for U.S. intervention. In addition, the United States had limited its air strikes to avoid extensive damage to Iraq’s electrical system and other infrastructures that would be needed for Iraq’s recovery. But in the increasing chaos, many important infrastructures and related government offices were looted or destroyed. Iraqi saboteurs, presumably loyalists of Hussein’s Baath Party, also attacked power plants, oil pipelines, and bridges. After the war, a document from the Iraqi Intelligence Service, dated January 23, was found in Al Başrah. It called for a guerrilla campaign of economic sabotage—against power plants, communication lines, water purification plants, and many more targets—in the event the regime was toppled. Coalition forces were also the targets of suicide bombings, sniper fire, and other acts of hostility.
With great fanfare President Bush declared an end to combat operations on May 1. He was flown to an aircraft carrier stationed off San Diego, California, and arrived wearing a flight suit. Standing under a banner that read “Mission Accomplished,” President Bush declared that “an ally of al-Qaeda” had been defeated.
Under the Bush administration's initial postwar plan, the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), a newly created Defense Department organization, was to oversee the political and economic reconstruction of Iraq. The organization had anticipated dealing with famine, refugees, and other humanitarian crises in Iraq—none of which emerged. Faced with continued hostilities and unexpected, severe problems in restoring electricity and oil production, it made modest progress toward rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and political institutions. ORHA was soon replaced by a new organization, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which was headed by L. Paul Bremer III, a former counterterrorism official at the State Department. 
Bremer made a number of controversial policy decisions. He dissolved the Iraqi army and organized a program to create a new Iraqi military, which was intended to number only 40,000 people after two years. Bremer also excluded about 30,000 former high-level Baath Party members from employment in the Iraqi public sector. Coalition officials said the move was necessary to break the Baath Party’s hold on power once and for all, but critics said it was too sweeping and deprived the governing authority of experts needed to run the country. Eventually, the CPA made exceptions to the policy. Additionally, Bremer put off the transfer of power to an interim Iraqi governing authority. Bremer argued that a new constitution needed to be drawn up before elections could be organized for a new Iraqi government, which would control its own affairs.
After the dissolution of the army and the firing of former Baath Party members, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men suddenly found themselves without a livelihood. Many experts later concluded that the unemployed men would fill the ranks of the Sunni insurgency and of Shia militias, both of which soon grew in strength.
Bremer’s plan to appoint a committee to draft the Iraqi constitution met opposition from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shia Muslims. Sistani insisted that a permanent constitution for the country could only be drafted by delegates elected by the Iraqi people and so reflecting the general will of the country. In the end, Bremer was forced to accept Sistani’s dictum.
The emergence of Shia mass party politics was one of the big surprises that faced the U.S. administrators of Iraq. Modern Shia political party organizing had begun in the late 1950s with the Da`wa Party, which aimed at establishing an Islamic state with Islamic law as its basis. The Da`wa became popular among many Shia, but had to go underground after it was banned in 1980. Its leadership fled to London, England, and Tehrān, the capital of neighboring Iran, which is made up overwhelmingly of Shia Muslims. Also based in Tehrān was the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), founded with Iranian support among Iraqi expatriates in 1982 during the Iran-Iraq War.
SCIRI developed a paramilitary arm, the Badr Corps, which ultimately grew to be some 15,000 strong. It conducted repeated raids against Baath Party strongholds in Iraq from bases in Iran. Inside Iraq, aside from continued Da`wa organizing, a third major movement grew up in the 1990s. Led by Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, the Sadrists tended to be poor slum dwellers or rural tribesmen. They favored puritan morality, enforced by informal morals police in the form of neighborhood gangs. Al-Sadr was assassinated by the Baath state in 1999. After the war, his young son, Muqtada al-Sadr, entered the public arena as the leader of the movement, and began organizing regular demonstrations against the U.S. presence in Iraq in Baghdād, Basra, and other cities.
A A Growing Insurgency
Facing a growing guerrilla war as well as al-Sadr’s street protests, Bremer reconsidered his initial plan to have the CPA rule Iraq alone. He installed a 25-member Iraqi governing council on July 13 with seats distributed among different religious and ethnic groups. However, the interim council had only limited authority, and the Iraqi ministries were supervised by a coalition adviser.
By September coalition forces had achieved considerable success in restoring order in and around the northern city of Mosul and across much of the south. But establishing order over the Sunni Arab-dominated center-north of the country, which included Baghdād and the Diyala, Salahuddin, and Anbar provinces, remained a challenge. Car bombings became the weapon of choice for Iraqis who opposed the coalition occupation. In Baghdād, car bombs ripped apart the Jordanian Embassy on August 7 and blew up the UN compound on August 19, killing Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN secretary general's special representative in Iraq. A car bomb attack in An Najaf on August 29 killed Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, the leader of the SCIRI, who had cooperated with the U.S.-led occupation. The following month, gunmen killed a member of the governing council in an attack near her Baghdād home.
During combat operations and in the subsequent months, U.S. and coalition forces succeeded in capturing or killing many of the leading members of Saddam Hussein’s government. Saddam’s sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein, were both killed in a July 22 firefight in Mosul. However, Saddam Hussein himself remained at large for months.
By the end of the summer of 2003, the Bush administration was faced with continued instability in Iraq and the prospect of a prolonged deployment of substantial U.S. forces. In September Bush requested from the U.S. Congress and subsequently received an additional $87 billion for combat and reconstruction, almost all of the money earmarked for Iraq.
By October 2003, it was clear that the CPA simply lacked the legitimacy to rule Iraq, and that the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement and Shia dissidence were growing. Bremer flew to Washington for consultations and a new approach was devised. On November 15, the interim governing council concluded a pact with Bremer that called for caucus-based elections of an Iraqi parliament in May 2004, after which the United States would devolve sovereignty on the new Iraqi government. The caucuses would consist of members of provincial governing assemblies, bodies that had been installed by the United States and Britain. This plan met heavy resistance from Grand Ayatollah Sistani, since it did not involve one-person, one-vote elections. Sistani insisted on open elections and demanded UN involvement in determining their feasibility.
The Bush administration initially resisted Sistani’s demands. But in mid-January 2004, Sistani called large crowds into the streets. Some 40,000 Shia in Basra demonstrated for democratic elections, and then 100,000 came out in Baghdād. The Bush administration then acquiesced, cooperating with a fact-finding mission by UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and agreeing to the principle of open, democratic elections. The interim governing council was tasked with drafting a Temporary Administrative Law to serve as an interim constitution until the elected parliament could draft a permanent charter.
B Failure to Find Weapons of Mass Destruction
Critics of the Bush and Blair administrations grew more vocal as months went by without coalition forces unearthing evidence of Iraq’s alleged chemical or biological weapons stockpiles or its suspected program to develop nuclear weapons. A U.S. team called the Iraq Survey Group, which was charged with surveying Iraq’s weapons programs, released an interim report in October 2003 stating that it had so far failed to find any chemical or biological weapons in Iraq, or any evidence that Iraq was actively developing nuclear weapons. The team’s leader, David Kay, resigned in January 2004, telling a congressional committee that Iraq probably had no weapons of mass destruction.
The final report of the Iraq Survey Group undermined virtually every claim the Bush administration had made about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. For example, it found that the aluminum tubes Iraq had supposedly ordered for use in a nuclear weapons program were, in fact, for use in Iraqi artillery rockets. The report found that Iraq had discontinued its chemical and biological weapons programs and had not reconstituted a nuclear weapons program.
Bush’s assertion in his January 2003 State of the Union address that Hussein had attempted to buy uranium from Africa also came under fire as a result of disclosures by Joseph Wilson. Wilson was a former U.S. diplomat who had gone to Niger, the African nation that was the alleged source, to investigate the claim for the CIA. Wilson said his investigation showed that it was virtually impossible for Iraq to obtain uranium from a French-run consortium in Niger. In July 2003 the Bush administration admitted that the statement was inaccurate and based on forged documents. On September 17, 2003, Bush also conceded there was no evidence that the Iraqi regime had ties to al-Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Bush had previously linked al-Qaeda to the Hussein regime. Despite this admission, other members of the Bush administration, particularly
Vice President Cheney, continued to link Hussein and al-Qaeda, and at times, Bush himself resurrected the alleged link. See also Valerie Plame Wilson Affair.
C Hussein Captured but Fighting Continues
The coalition’s morale lifted in December 2003 when U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein in a nighttime raid on a farmhouse near Tikrīt. Hiding in a small, underground chamber, the deposed leader was apprehended without a fight. Members of the Iraqi Governing Council pledged to try Hussein for crimes against humanity in a public trial. President Bush welcomed the end of “a dark and painful era” but cautioned that Hussein’s capture did not mean an end to the violent insurgency against U.S. forces in Iraq.
The Sunni Arab regions increasingly went into the hands of the guerrillas, a mixed assortment of ex-Baathists, nationalists, Sunni religious revivalists, and tribal groupings. In the western city of Fallūjah on March 31, 2004, four private security guards—three Americans and one South African—were killed and their bodies desecrated. The Bush administration ordered an assault on the city, but as word of heavy civilian casualties leaked out, public opinion in Iraq turned against the operation and members of the interim governing council threatened to resign. The Bush administration then backed off, attempting to reach a political settlement with the city’s elites.
Also in early April, U.S. authorities decided to attempt to “kill or capture” Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Shia militia, the Mahdi Army, was viewed as an impediment to law and order, though it had not come into conflict with U.S. troops. Al-Sadr eluded the Americans and ordered a general uprising. Mahdi Army militiamen took over most police stations in East Baghdād and in cities throughout the south, such as An Najaf and An Nāsirīya. They expelled the Ukrainian troops from their base at Al Kūt and took it over. The U.S. military lost control of much of Baghdād and lost its supply and communications lines to the south, as large-scale fighting broke out. This conflict led to the deadliest month of the war to date for both sides. About 1,361 Iraqi civilians and 1,000 insurgents were killed, while 136 U.S. troops died in April.
Public opinion polls showed that a majority of Iraqis opposed the U.S. occupation and wanted U.S. troops to leave. Support declined further following the disclosure that U.S. military and civilian personnel had abused some Iraqi prisoners by subjecting them to sexual humiliation and other acts of degradation (see Abu Ghraib Scandal). Public opinion polls in the United States also showed waning support for the war among Americans. In 2005 President Bush began to receive low approval ratings for his conduct of the war in Iraq.
U.S. military commanders kept about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq through 2005. Facing growing public discontent with the war, the Bush administration said it planned to reduce U.S. forces in 2006, but in the fall of 2006 U.S. military commanders said a force of 140,000 would be required until 2010. Spain’s decision to withdraw its 1,300 troops after April 2004 was a harbinger of the departure of large numbers of small coalition units in 2005, as Norway, Thailand, and other countries concluded that their original peacekeeping mission threatened to become more of a military mission. In December 2005 Bulgaria and Ukraine withdrew the last of their troops—about 1,500 soldiers—and in June 2006 Japan began withdrawing its force of about 600 soldiers, who were engaged in humanitarian and noncombat duties.
Because U.S. and British forces play the principal combat role in Iraq, the departure of smaller forces was believed to have more of a political than a military impact. In addition to the U.S. force, Britain maintained a force of about 7,000 troops in Iraq in 2006, mainly around the city of al Başrah. However, in October 2006 British participation came into question when Britain’s new army chief, General Sir Richard Dannatt, called for a withdrawal of British troops “sometime soon” because, he said, the presence of foreign troops was worsening the situation. In what was regarded as an unusual critique of a foreign policy position by a military commander, Dannatt also said he believed the presence of British troops in Iraq affected domestic security within the United Kingdom. In July 2007 Britain announced plans to begin withdrawing its remaining 5,500 troops from the center of al Başrah to an airport headquarters outside the city. Britain also shifted some of its forces from Iraq to Afghanistan. In December 2007 Britain handed over control of al Başrah to Iraqi forces and withdrew its remaining 4,500 troops to its airport headquarters.
Britain was not alone in having leading military figures question the ongoing occupation. October 2006 also saw a number of recently retired U.S. generals make public statements against U.S. strategy and policy in Iraq. The wartime dissents by such figures as Major General Charles Swannack, Jr., and Major General John Batiste, both of whom had commanded combat troops in Iraq, were regarded as unprecedented in U.S. history. Much of the criticism was directed at Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his decision to ignore the original recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for an initial invasion force of about 400,000 troops. But some of the criticism expressed opposition to the decision to invade. Retired Lieutenant General William Odom called the Iraq war “the worst strategic mistake in the history of the United States.” Marine Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold revealed that he had purposely retired prior to the war, which he called “unnecessary,” because of his opposition to “those who used 9/11’s tragedy to hijack our security policy.”
Going into the November 2006 midterm elections to the U.S. Congress, polls showed that a substantial majority of voters opposed the Bush administration’s handling of the war. The polls revealed that the war figured prominently in how voters decided to cast their ballots. The elections resulted in what President Bush called a “thumping” for the Republican Party, which lost control of both the House and Senate for the first time in 12 years. Immediately after the elections, Rumsfeld announced his retirement. He was replaced by Robert M. Gates, a former CIA director and a member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Gates was known as a protégé of former national security adviser Brent Scrowcroft, who had opposed the U.S. invasion.
In December 2006 the Iraq Study Group, which was created and funded by the U.S. Congress in 2005 to provide an assessment of the war, released its much-awaited report. The report said that the situation in Iraq was “grave and deteriorating.” Headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton, the Iraq Study Group found that the principal cause of instability was sectarian conflict and that the collapse of Iraq’s government and a humanitarian catastrophe could result if stability was not restored. The report made 79 recommendations envisioning ways in which a national reconciliation could occur among Iraq’s Kurds, Shia, and Sunni Muslims, paving the way for U.S. combat forces to leave by early 2008 while retaining a smaller U.S. force that would become embedded in the Iraqi Army. The report also called for a comprehensive peace settlement throughout the Middle East involving Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians, Lebanon, and Syria. The Study Group recommended that the United States negotiate with Syria and Iran without preconditions with the goal of enlisting their aid to bring stability to Iraq. Finally, the report warned that a failure to bring peace and stability to Iraq would result in a diminished international and regional standing for the United States and a propaganda victory for al-Qaeda, which it said was trying to instigate a wider sectarian war in Iraq.
The report initially received a mixed reaction, with neither the Bush administration nor the Democratic opposition embracing all of its recommendations, as the study group had urged. Contradicting earlier positions that the United States was winning the war in Iraq and only needed to “stay the course,” President Bush in late December 2006 began to characterize the war as being neither won nor lost while saying he recognized that new policies were needed and staying the course was no longer sufficient. Bush said that he was studying the Iraq Study Group report along with other assessments of the continuing occupation, including a paper written by Frederick Kagan of the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
A Outlining the ‘Surge’ Strategy
On January 10, 2007, in a nationally televised address, Bush largely rejected the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group and put forward many of the recommendations made in the AEI report. He called for an additional 21,500 soldiers to be deployed in Iraq, mostly in Badhdād to halt sectarian violence by both Sunni insurgents and Shia militias. Most of the U.S. troops were to be embedded with Iraqi army forces. A smaller number of the new troops would go to Anbar province, where foreign and native fighters, some aligned with a group known variously as al-Qaeda in Iraq or al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, were active. The group did not exist prior to the September 11 attacks, and some intelligence officials doubted whether it had organizational ties to al-Qaeda itself.
Bush accused Iran and Syria of allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory “to move in and out of Iraq” and he charged Iran with providing “material support for attacks on American troops.” He said, “We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.” Bush warned that he was ordering a second aircraft-carrier battle group and Patriot antimissile batteries to the Persian Gulf.
During his speech, Bush acknowledged that mistakes had been made in Iraq and said that he took responsibility for them. Asked in interviews what mistakes had been made, Bush cited among other incidents the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. In a background briefing for reporters prior to his January 10 speech, Bush also mentioned an apparent massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. marines in Haditha in 2005.
Bush’s decision to introduce more troops to Iraq, which he characterized as a “surge,” not an escalation, met with opposition in Congress. But Democrats were divided on how to respond. In March 2007 the U.S. House of Representatives took the boldest step, voting 218 to 212 for a binding resolution that would require most U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq by September 2008, a resolution that was vetoed by Bush. Democrats agreed to drop their demand for a timed withdrawal. Instead, a compromise was reached in which progress in Iraq would be measured by certain “benchmarks,” with the administration reporting periodically on its progress in meeting those benchmarks.
In September 2007 General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, gave the first formal presentation on the administration’s progress since the “surge” began. In his testimony Petraeus asserted that the surge was successfully reducing the level of violence in Iraq. He said that the 30,000 troops added to U.S. forces by the surge, bringing it to a peak level of 169,000, would no longer be needed by July 2008. However, he cautioned that about 130,000 remaining U.S. troops would need an indefinite amount of time to help stabilize Iraq and that it would be “premature” to discuss further withdrawals. Petraeus said he foresaw a long-term need for the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq.
In October 2007 another significant military voice cast doubt on the effectiveness of the surge strategy, however. Retired Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who headed U.S. combat forces in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, called the U.S. mission in Iraq “a nightmare with no end in sight.” Sanchez called the surge a “desperate attempt” to make up for failed U.S. policies in Iraq. In November, Sanchez allied himself with Democratic legislation to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2008.
Opponents of the war challenged Petraeus’s assessment of the surge’s success, saying that the general had selectively “cherry-picked” statistics to support his claim that violence was declining. They pointed to a nonpartisan report released just prior to Petraeus’s testimony by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent agency that advises Congress. The report maintained that the Iraqi government was failing to meet the chief political benchmarks needed for political reconciliation in Iraq and an end to sectarian fighting.
President Bush followed up Petraeus’s testimony with a national TV address in which he called for an “enduring” U.S. relationship with Iraq that would require a U.S. troop presence long after his presidency ended. Bush proposed a defense pact with Iraq along the lines of the defense treaties that have kept U.S. forces in South Korea since the Korean War ended. Bush said a long-term U.S. force was needed to prevent a victory by al-Qaeda and to counter Iran, thereby preventing extremists from gaining control of “a key part of the global energy supply.”
B The Iraq War and the 2008 Presidential Election Year
As 2008 began, attention focused on the U.S. presidential election year with the two major political parties taking nearly opposite positions on the Iraq war. The leading Democratic presidential candidates promised to begin phased withdrawals of U.S. combat forces from Iraq if elected, while leaving some troops there indefinitely to help train the Iraqi military in counterinsurgency efforts. The leading Republican candidates supported the war, insisting that the war could still be won.
The Republicans generally championed the surge strategy as a success. They pointed to a decline in the number of attacks on U.S. forces and a lessening of sectarian violence, particularly in Baghdād, the capital. They also noted the emergence of Awakening Councils consisting of former Sunni insurgents, who were cooperating with U.S. forces in attacking al-Qaeda in Iraq, particularly in volatile al-Anbar province. They also credited increased pressure on Iran with a decline in the use of armor-piercing roadside bombs known as explosively formed projectiles or explosively formed penetrators, both dubbed EFPs, which were especially deadly and were supposedly supplied by Iran.
The Democrats and other opponents of the war generally disputed the success of the surge, arguing that the number of insurgent attacks remained significant, averaging about 2,000 a month, and that 2007 was the deadliest year yet for U.S. forces. They noted that sectarian attacks on civilians continued to occur in Baghdād and that any lessening of violence was more likely the result of firm boundaries being established between Shia and Sunni neighborhoods rather than the beginnings of political reconciliation. Many observers also believed that the cooperation of the Awakening Councils was likely to be short-lived and was mostly opportunistic since they were being paid by U.S. forces. According to this outlook, the Sunni insurgents remained the principal component of the anti-U.S. resistance, while al-Qaeda in Iraq’s largely foreign fighters were not a significant military force, numbering only about 6,000 fighters. There was also evidence that U.S. forces increasingly relied on air strikes, rather than infantry encounters with insurgents, in order to keep U.S. casualties low. The number of U.S. air strikes in Iraq increased by five times in 2007 over the number in 2006, with an average of four bombs a day dropped on Iraqi targets in 2007.
By March 2008 Senator John McCain had become the Republican Party’s apparent presidential candidate, having won enough delegates in the party’s primaries and caucuses to ensure his nomination at the Republican convention. McCain traveled to Iraq in March and returned with a report that the surge was working and Iraq was becoming less violent and more stable. McCain argued that even if it took a 50- to 100-year occupation to succeed, the effort would be worth it.
In January 2008 the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that $440 billion had been spent on the war in Iraq since it began. The CBO estimated that the war would eventually cost between $1 trillion and $2 trillion. A study by two U.S. economists—the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University budget expert Linda Bilmes—calculated that the total cost of the war might reach $4 trillion. The study factored in long-term health-care and disability costs for U.S. forces wounded in Iraq, interest on borrowing to pay the war’s costs, and the impact on the U.S. economy from higher oil prices.
Similarly the Iraq Study Group report found that the costs of caring for wounded veterans and replacing damaged or destroyed military equipment would reach into the hundreds of billions. The Iraq Study Group cited estimates as high as $2 trillion for the final cost of U.S. involvement in Iraq.
The Iraqi economy was devastated by the invasion and the guerrilla war that followed. Electricity was often not available to run factories. Unemployment was variously estimated for much of this period from 20 to 60 percent, compared with an unemployment rate of 25 percent during the Great Depression in the United States. According to the Iraq Study Group report, Iraq’s economy grew at a rate of 4 percent in 2006, well below the target growth rate of 10 percent. The rate of inflation was more than 50 percent. Iraq went from producing 2.8 million barrels of oil a day to 1.8 million barrels a day in January 2006, as a result of guerrilla war and pipeline sabotage. Some economists estimated that the decline in production represented a loss of roughly $14 billion in oil revenues. By the end of 2006 the Iraq Study Group report found that production had climbed back to 2.2 million barrels a day, but was still below the Iraq government’s goal of 2.5 million barrels. By early 2008 Iraq had begun producing 2.4 million barrels per day. However, renewed fighting in the southern oil port city of Al Başrah and elsewhere in southern Iraq between the Shia militia known as the Mahdi Army and regular Iraqi army forces was accompanied by sabotage of oil pipelines, which threatened to curb Iraq’s oil production.
The Bush administration maintained that it invaded Iraq because it believed the Hussein regime possessed weapons of mass destruction and posed a direct threat to the United States and its allies. Only the ouster of Hussein from power would end that threat, the administration argued, and prevent Iraq from giving those deadly weapons to terrorist groups. After no such weapons were found, the Bush administration still argued that the invasion was justified because it ousted a tyrant responsible for numerous human rights violations. The creation of a democracy in Iraq, President Bush said, could have a transformative effect on the entire Middle East, helping bring peace to the region and isolate the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalist jihadis (holy warriors), who believed in waging a jihad (holy war) against the West.
Critics of the invasion from various political positions took issue with most of the Bush administration’s fundamental premises and advanced their own theories for why the invasion and subsequent occupation were undertaken. First, on the political merits of the case for war, they argued that Hussein’s regime had been severely weakened by economic sanctions and Iraq’s military was incapable of posing a serious threat to the United Sates or its allies in the Middle East. They further disputed the likelihood that Iraq would furnish extremely destructive weapons to a terrorist organization, weapons that could in turn be used against Iraq. As a secular government, they argued, Iraq had reason to fear and distrust jihadi groups, such as al-Qaeda, which favor strict theocratic rule and have grandiose visions of reestablishing a caliphate throughout the Islamic world.
Critics of the war advanced a variety of theories to explain why the Bush administration was intent on invading Iraq. These theories ranged from a desire to seek short-term advantages in domestic politics to the desire to establish long-term military and economic control over a region that contains more than half of the world’s oil and natural gas production.
Iraq has the Middle East’s second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia and may well possess the largest. Iraq has 115 billion barrels of known reserves, but the extent of Iraq’s petroleum deposits is still unknown. Some estimates have placed the country’s possible reserves as high as an additional 220 billion to 300 billion barrels, which would makes its reserves worth an estimated $41.5 trillion with the price of oil at $100 a barrel.
Moreover, most of the Middle East’s oil passes through the Persian Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz, and Iraq is in a strategic position for guarding the strait. Most of the European Union and Japan are largely dependent on this oil supply. The rapidly developing economies of China and India are increasingly reliant on the safe passage of oil from the Persian Gulf. After the United States was asked to remove most of its military forces from Saudi Arabia, the United States no longer had significant military bases in the Gulf region. Some foreign policy analysts suspect that the Bush administration sought a military presence in Iraq as a way to control oil supplies.
For these critics, the U.S. goal was not so much to exploit Iraq’s oil as it was to position the United States as the strategic controller of these crucial resources, thereby giving the United States leverage over the economies of any potential rivals. This leverage was increasingly needed, left-wing critics of the war said, because of the mounting debt of the United States and in particular because one nation, China, with one of the most rapidly growing economies in the world, was becoming the single-largest holder of U.S. Treasury bonds among foreign nations. China, along with Russia, had also proposed an Asian Energy Security Grid that aimed to give the developing industrial countries of Asia assured access to energy resources independent of the United States.
In September 2007 more credence was given to the view that Iraq’s oil was instrumental in the decision to wage war by Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve. Greenspan wrote in his just-published memoir: “Whatever their publicized angst over Saddam Hussein's 'weapons of mass destruction,' American and British authorities were also concerned about violence in an area that harbors a resource indispensable for the functioning of the world economy. I'm saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: The Iraq war is largely about oil.” Greenspan clarified in later interviews that he supported the invasion of Iraq precisely for that reason, saying it was “essential” to “take out Saddam.” Greenspan admitted he never heard Bush cite oil as his motivation for the war, but he quoted a lower-level administration official as saying, “Well, unfortunately, we can't talk about oil.”
For some opponents of the war, the Bush administration’s alleged goal of gaining access to Irag’s oil was about more than just controlling energy supplies. These critics charged that the U.S.-British invasion sought to open the way for U.S. and British oil companies to gain access to Iraq’s oil and to be in position to explore for additional oil and gas reserves. They pointed to the close ties of leading figures in the Bush administration to the oil industry itself, noting that national security adviser Condoleezza Rice had been a member of the board of Chevron Corporation; that Vice President Dick Cheney had been the chief executive officer of Halliburton, a key player in oilfield technologies and services; and that Bush himself, along with his father, had long been involved in the oil industry. In September 2007 the Hunt Oil Co. of Dallas, Texas, signed a production-sharing contract with the Kurdistan regional government in Iraq. The president of Hunt Oil was a long-time political ally of Bush and a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Board.
Furthermore, according to this view, the Bush administration created as a “benchmark” for progress in Iraq the passage of a new oil law. U.S. officials helped draft a proposed law that would give foreign oil companies the ability to operate in Iraq and to reap the profits from newly discovered oil fields.
But others discounted economic reasons as primary and cited the political stature of the United States as the world’s leading superpower. In this view, a military response against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was insufficient. It was both necessary and convenient to make a stronger statement in response to the September 11 attacks by flexing U.S. military might in Iraq.

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