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War in Iraq, 2003-08

The invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003, and five weeks later US forces were in Baghdad. Their arrival was accompanied by chaos that included Iraqis looting government offices and installations. General Tommy Franks visited his troops in Iraq and spoke of a new Iraqi government taking over, and he announced that they would be withdrawn from Iraq by September.

On April 21st, at a press conference in the US, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced:

... we don't plan to function as an occupier, we don't plan to prescribe to any new government how we ought to be arranged in their country.

Retired General Jay Garner and eight subordinates arrived in Iraq on April 21 to administer what was planned as a brief occupation. At meeting with the 250 Iraqis on April 28 it was resolved that the Iraqi Interim Authority would be established within one month. Garner spoke of the Iraqis holding elections within 90 days and US troops withdrawing to a desert base.

Ten days later (May 1) President Bush landed a jet onto the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln off California's coast, and, beneath a banner that read "Mission Accomplished" (referring to a recent deployment in the Pacific rather than Iraq) he announced:

Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed... Because of you the tyrant has fallen and Iraq is free. Operation Iraqi Freedom was carried out with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy did not expect and the world had not seen before.

President Bush had put Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in charge of the invasion — Operation Iraqi Freedom — and Rumsfeld appointed J Paul Bremer as leader of the Coalition Provisional Authority (the coalition including Britain, Australia, Spain, and Poland). Rumsfeld is said to have wanted a "light footprint" in Iraq to avoid the annoyance that accompanies the presence of foreign troops. Like President Bush, he wanted the US to be a liberator, not an occupier.

Bremer arrived in Iraq on 12 May. He announced publicly that the political party to which Saddam belonged, the Baathists, were "not coming back." There were about 2,000,000 Baathists in Iraq – largely Sunni Arabs. General Franks was not pleased. He told Bremer that "If we're going to promote democracy, we shouldn't be banning political parties."

Bremer offered Garner a position under his authority, Garner refused and returned to the United States and on 18 June. He reported to Rumsfeld and told him of three mistakes that had been made: Bremer's de-Baathification; Bremer having gotten rid of the Iraqi army, which left hundreds of thousands unemployed and armed Iraqis running around; and Bremer having summarily dismissed an Iraqi political leadership group. Garner told Rumsfeld there was "still time to rectify this." But Rumsfeld expressed no interest.

Bremer and the US command was set up in Baghdad's Green Zone, in Saddam's former palaces. US troops were conducting raids north of Baghdad in a sweep known as "Operation Sidewinder," an effort to stop hit-and-run attacks that had killed 23 Americans and 6 British soldiers since the first of May.

General Franks took retirement on July 6, and leaving Iraq with him were the other top commanders who had been with him in the drive to Baghdad. In September, British and US officials appointed 25 Iraqis to an interim political council, which was supposed to create a new constitution for the country. The power of these Iraqis was addressed by Bremer on 16 September when he told a group of them that it was unpleasant being occupied but that "the Coalition is still the sovereign power here."

Saddam Captured and Interrogated

On December 13, American soldiers found Saddam at his reinforced underground bunker beneath a modest-looking rural house near his hometown, Tikrit — a bunker that Saddam had turned into his headquarters. On his belt was a Glock pistol and in the bunker was an AK-47 and $750,000 in US bank notes. Saddam is reported to have introduced himself saying: "I am Saddam Hussein the president of Iraq and I am willing to negotiate."

Bremer was triumphant, announcing "We got him." In his state of the Union Message (January 20, 2004), President Bush described the US as "having broken the Baathist regime" and added:

Our forces are on the offensive, leading over 1,600 patrols a day and conducting an average of 180 raids a week. We are dealing with these thugs in Iraq, just as surely as we dealt with Saddam Hussein's evil regime."

In his book Decision Points, Bush wrote of Saddam being "debriefed" by the FBI:

He told agents that he was more worried about looking weak to Iran than being removed by the coalition.

Bush wrote that he had decided not to criticize the CIA for the faulty intelligence it had given him regarding Iraq. He wrote about having been accused of lying in going to war against Saddam and that he resented the accusation. But he was less than venomous toward his critics. He wrote in his memoirs, Decision Points, of having sympathy for his critic Cindy Sheehan of Code Pink, who had lost a son in Iraq.

Abu Ghraib

The Triumph of capturing Saddam was followed a couple of months later by photos of US forces in charge of what had been one of Saddam's notorious prisons, in the Iraqi town of Abu Ghraib, about fifteen miles west of the center of Baghdad.

CBS Television, on 29 April 2004, broadcast photographs taken at Abu Ghraib prison. In the US and abroad was widespread condemnation of what was depicted. But there was Rush Limbaugh, who said it was "no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation." And Oklahoma's Senator James Inhofe said he was more outraged by the outrage than he was by the treatment of the prisoners, whom he described as having "blood on their hands." Al Gore called for the resignations of Rumsfeld and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and he described Bush as the most dishonest president since Richard Nixon. President Bush described his reaction to the photographs in Decision Points:

I felt sick, really sick. This was not what our military and our country stood for... I considered it the low point of my presidency.

Eleven soldiers were convicted of various charges relating to incidents at the prison. Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who had been the prison's commanding officer, was demoted to colonel.

Fallujah and other conflicts in 2004

Fallujah was a densely populated Sunni and Baathist industrialized town, about 3 miles by 3 miles, 40 miles west of Baghdad. The town had been untouched by the coalition invasion forces Their presence angered people, and a crowd of about 200 throw stones at the US forces. Saddam's military there had vanished into the local population and tribal leaders had chosen a new mayor for the city who was, it is said, pro-American.

Rather than leave the town alone, in April 2003, the US Army had chosen to chosen to apply some control: a curfew. Their presence aggravated a couple of hundred locals who gathered and threw rocks at an assembled body of US troops. US soldiers were to say that they heard shots. No one was struck by a bullet, but the soldiers fired into the crowd. Seventeen were reported killed and more than 70 wounded. In the weeks ahead there were more incidents and more people interested in violence against those they saw as occupiers.

On 31 March 2004 the burned bodies of four Blackwater private security employees were hung from a bridge in Fallujah. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of US military operations in Iraq, promised an "overwhelming" response to the Blackwater deaths, stating "We will pacify that city."

On the night of 4 April two battalions of US Marines surrounded Fallujah, and there were air strikes. In the days that followed many Iraqis fled Fallujah, and fighting spread to much of Iraq. There were violent clashes in a section of Baghdad called Sadr City that started days before when Bremer had ordered the closure of a newspaper. (The Shia leader there, Muqtada al-Sadr, had an army and rejected the US-led occupation of Iraq.) In the city of Ramadi (twenty miles west of Fallujah), a Sunni rebellion occurred. Some elements of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps also turned on the Coalition forces or simply abandoned their posts. By April 8 the kidnapping of foreign civilians had begun in Iraq with the abduction of several Japanese. Iraqi militants executed one of four Italian hostages.

There were more US aerial bombardments of Fallujah, and anti-American Iraqis held on. After three days of fighting, it was estimated that the United States had gained control over 25 percent of the city. Under pressure from the Iraqi Governing Council, Paul Bremer announced on 9 April that US forces would unilaterally hold to a ceasefire to facilitate negotiations with the insurgents in Fallujah and allow government supplies to be delivered to residents. Humanitarian relief entered the city while US forces and anti-American forces were strengthening their positions in abandoned parts of the city.

On April 19 US forces in Fallujah agreed with local community leaders to diffuse tensions. On April 27, insurgents attacked US positions, forcing the Americans to call in air support. On 1 May the United States withdrew from Fallujah, turning over its operations there to a security force, the Fallujah Brigade - recently formed by the CIA.

In November came the largest military operation since the invasion — the Second Battle of Fallujah, from 7 November to 23 December, with 10,500 coalition troops (850 Brits and a couple of thousand pro-American Iraqis). Fallujah was occupied by virtually every insurgent group in Iraq: al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI), Ansar al-Sunna, Army of Mohammed (AOM), the Army of the Mujahedeen and the Secret Islamic Army of Iraq, a total of something like 4,000 fighters.

From the heavy urban combat the US military and its allies emerged dominant, but the US lost 95 killed and 560 wounded. The Brits lost 4 killed and 43 wounded. Their enemy combatants killed were counted at around 2,000 and 1,500 captured.

Relative calm was restored to Fallujah, but almost-daily attacks against coalition forces were to resume in 2005 US forces continued their occupation and the population slowly trickled back into the city.

Fighting in 2005

In January 2005 there was voting to choose representatives to a 275-seat National Assembly, whose job it will be to create the country's constitution. The Shi'a obtained a majority in the assembly, followed by Kurds, with the Sunni largely left out. Many Sunni were clinging to their memory of being favored by Saddam Hussein.

In January 2005 as many as 11 million Iraqis turn out to select members of a new parliament, and there were more than 7,000 candidates from 300 parties seeking to fill 275 seats. In April, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd (non-Arab) was made President of Iraq's Governing Council. He was on his way to becoming Iraq's (parliamentary system) president in 2006.

Through the year, fighting raged on between coalition and anti-coalition forces, and there was a lot of sectarian violence between Iraqis. Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq was targeting Shi'a, and Shi'a were retaliating. The year 2005 was just as bloody as 2004, with 846 American deaths compared to 486 in 2004 (and 486 in 2003). And the Iraqis killed by the war in 2005 was counted at 16,583. But Bush was determined to press on. In December he spoke of "progress of freedom and democracy in Iraq" — while there was a ban on photographing the coffins returning to the US from Iraq — an attempt to reduce opposition to the war.

2006 to Saddam's hanging

In February 2006 one of Shia's holiest mosques, in Samarra, was destroyed. More than one hundred bodies were found the next day, and there was retaliatory violence. In his memoirs Bush was to describe the "sectarian violence" as having exploded by early April, "exacerbated by the lack of a strong Iraqi government."

President Talibani chose a Shi'a, Nouri al-Malaki, as his prime minister. Bush communicated with Maliki by phone and was to write that "with the Iraqis struggling to stand up, it didn't seem possible for us to stand down."

Bush writes the through the summer of 2006 "An average of 120 Iraqis a day were dying... By a margin of almost two to one, Americans disapproved of the way I was handling Iraq. For the first time, I worried we might not succeed." (Decision Points)

The mid-term elections in the US was a loss for Bush's Republican Party. The Democrats recaptured control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. A week later in Baghdad, gunmen wearing Iraqi police uniforms kidnapped as many as 100 from a Higher Education Ministry building. On November 23, three suicide car bombs and two mortar rounds hit against Shi'a in Sadr City, killing at least 145 people and wounding 238 according to a first-day report.

In October, Maliki complained about an American raid against a Shiite militia leader (Muqtada al-Sadr?) without his approval. Maliki was also struggling for compromise with Sunni Arabs in parliament who were complaining that the Shi'a were pursuing sectarian advantage.

On 30 December, Maliki signed Saddam Hussein's death warrant, saying "Our respect for human rights requires us to execute him." Saddam Hussein submitted to his hanging stoically and cursed "traitors," the United States and Iran.

2007 and the Surge

With their brutal treatment of civilians, al-Qaeda was annoying other Sunni insurgents in Anbar province. And trying to impose authority they were annoying local tribal leaders. For al-Qaeda it was a losing strategy, and the US was taking advantage of it. Some Iraqis who had previously participated in the insurgency switched to opposition to al-Qaeda. The US paid Sunni tribes to form militias known as "Awakening Councils" to expel al-Qaeda.

In January 2007, Americans were debating a proposed troop surge: sending to Iraq more than 20,000 combatants, the majority of them into Baghdad to help the Iraqis "clear and secure" neighborhoods. And it would include extending the tour-of-duty of most of US troops in Iraq. Public opinion according to a Gallup poll was 38 percent in favor of the surge and 59 percent opposed. Illinois Senator Barack Obama, along with most members of the Democratic Party, opposed to the surge to no avail.

The US command in Iraq was turned over to General David Petraeus, a scholarly soldier who had led the 101st Airborne Division in its March 2004 drive to Baghdad. After returning to the US he published his observations on the war and was described as a believer in a "hearts-and-minds" strategy. Back in Iraq and in command, he sought partnership with the Iraqi military. He began putting some Sunni groups that had previously fought the US, on the American payroll and favored improving the daily life of civilians.

In 2007, US Servicemen killed in action in Iraq rose to 904, but in 2008 with the new strategy that number for the year declined to 314. And civilian deaths in 2008 were 10,271, down from 26,078 in 2007.

In July 2008, Senator Barack Obama, a candidate for president, wrote "In the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge, our troops have performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence. New tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda – greatly weakening its effectiveness." A day later, he declared that "true success" and "victory in Iraq" were possible. The Obama campaign is reported as having scrubbed its presidential website to remove criticism of the surge.

In September 2008, US forces handed control of Anbar Province to the Iraqi military and police. In November, Iraq's parliament approved an agreement with the US that set a timetable for the final withdrawal of US forces. US troops were scheduled to leave the cities by mid-2009 and to withdrawal from the country by December 31, 2011.

CONTINUE READING: Bush and the Economy, 2001-2008

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