This Week in History: 20 March 2003 The Iraq war begins

On the evening of 18 March 2003, Tony Blair won support to join UK troops in the American invasion of Iraq. Despite the motion being passed by 412 votes to 149 in the House of Commons, the decision sparked a major backbench rebellion for the Labour party. Britain’s overall involvement in the Iraq War has since been an ongoing matter of controversy, resulting in the release of the well-known Chilcot report in 2016.

The Iraq War was a direct consequence of the destruction and turmoil left in the wake of the Persian Gulf War, a decade previously. American, British and Egyptian forces had intervened to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. Following a ceasefire in 1991, President Saddam Hussein accepted peace terms to recognise the autonomy of Kuwait and destroy Iraq’s chemical and nuclear weapons. Destruction and turmoil continued in the years to follow, with Hussein’s regime using chemical weapons and brutality against civil uprisings from the far left, including the Kurds and Shiites, and eventually refusing to allow the United Nations to inspect its weapons.

In the wake of the September attacks of 2001, the US President, George W. Bush, argued that the possibility of Iraq sharing these weapons with terrorists posed a threat to US national security and advocated war. The aim of the invasion would be ‘to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction’.

On 17 March 2003 Bush gave Hussein an ultimatum, to leave Iraq within 48 hours or face war. In response, Hussein broadcasted a speech to promise his people victory. The initial invasion of Iraq lasted for three weeks, ending in the fall of Baghdad on 9 April but finding no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. After 6 months in hiding, Hussein was found by US soldiers near Tikrit. He was executed in December 2006 having been found guilty of crimes against humanity.

Despite Hussein’s capture and the fall of the Ba’athist government, the US continued to occupy Iraq until 2011, due to extensive violence between the Sunni and Shia fundamentalist parties, as well as threats from Iran and al-Qaeda.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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