Timeline of the invasion
See 2003 invasion of Iraq timeline for a detailed timeline
Prior to invasion, the United States and other coalition forces involved in the 1991 Gulf War had been engaged in a low-level conflict with Iraq, enforcing the Iraqi no-fly zones where Iraqi air-defense installations were engaged on a fairly regular basis. In mid-2002, the U.S. began to change its response strategy, more carefully selecting targets in the southern part of the country in order to disrupt the military command structure in Iraq. A change in enforcement tactics was acknowledged at the time, but it was not made public that this was part of a plan known as Operation Southern Focus.
The invasion was swift, with the collapse of the Iraq government and the military of Iraq in about three weeks. The oil infrastructure of Iraq was rapidly secured with limited damage in that time. Securing the oil infrastructure was considered important in order to prevent Saddam Hussein's forces from using it as a smokescreen to disguise the movement of his troops. The tactic was used in the first Gulf War, with the result many Iraqi soldiers were able to evade the US Airforce which was unwilling to fly through the smoke and attack ground troops. However the method used created many environmental problems.
Casualties of the invading forces were not limited to the Iraqi military as civilian men, women and children residents within the combat zones were also casualties but numbers are unknown, probably in the thousands. A study from the Project on Defense Alternatives , a Boston-based think tank, numbered the Iraqi casualties between 11,000 and 15,000 ( PDF file ), and the Iraq Body Count project numbered the civilian Iraqis injured in 20,000 . However, the Iraq Body Count project's numbers have been the subject of much debate.
The U.S Third Division moved westward and then northward through the desert toward Baghdad, while the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and a UK expeditionary force moved northward through marshland. UK forces entered Iraq's second-largest city, Basra, following two weeks of conflict, although their control of the city was limited. Preexisting electrical and water shortages continued through the conflict and looting began as Iraqi forces collapsed. While British forces began working with local Iraqi Police to enforce order, humanitarian aid began to arrive from ships landing in the port city of Umm Qasr and trucks entering the country through Kuwait.
Landsat 7 image of Bagdad, April 2, 2003.]]
Three weeks into the invasion U.S. forces moved into Baghdad with limited resistance, Iraqi government officials either disappeared or conceded defeat. On April 9, 2003 Baghdad was formally secured by US forces and the regime of Saddam Hussein was declared to be ended. Saddam had previously vanished, and his whereabouts were unknown. Many Iraqis celebrated the downfall of Saddam by vandalizing his many portraits, statues and other pieces of his personality cult.
One widely-publicized event was the dramatic toppling of a large statue of Saddam in central Baghdad by a US tank, while crowds of Iraqis apparently cheered the soldiers on. This event has been hotly disputed , with some pointing out that the flag placed over the face was one flown over the Pentagon on September 11th and appeared indicative of a staged event , and one picture from the event was discovered to have been doctored to make the crowd appear larger . Wider shots of the square showed the crowd was quite sparse (less than two hundred individuals), and the area had been ringed off by US troops, suggesting the crowd consisted of hand-picked people. A recent internal study by the US Army confirms that the event was effectively stage-managed by a US psychological operations unit, and the decision to pull down the Saddam statue was taken by a Marine colonel.
General Tommy Franks assumed control of Iraq as Supreme commander of occupation forces.
Shortly after the sudden collapse of the defense of Baghdad, rumors were circulating in Iraq and elsewhere that there had been a deal struck (a "safqua") wherein the US had bribed key members of the Iraqi military elite and/or the Baath party itself to stand down.
In late May, 2003, Tommy Franks announced his retirement. Shortly thereafter, he confirmed in an interview with Defense Week that the US had paid Iraqi military leaders to defect. The extent of the defections and their effect on the war were not clear as of this writing (May 24, 2003).
Looting took place in the days following. It was reported that the National Museum of Iraq was amongst the looted sites. Many in the arts and antiquities communities briefed policymakers in advance of the need to secure Iraqi museums. Despite the looting being somewhat less worse than initially feared, the cultural loss of items from ancient Sumeria is significant. The idea that US forces did not guard the museum because they were guarding the Ministry of Oil and Ministry of Interior is apparently true. According to U.S. officials the "reality of the situation on the ground" was that hospitals, water plants, and ministries with vital intelligence needed security more than other sites. There were only enough US troops on the ground to guard a certain number of the many sites that ideally needed protection, and so some "hard choices" were made.
The FBI was soon called into Iraq to track down the stolen items. It was found that the initial claims of looting of substantial portions of the collection were somewhat exaggerated and for months people have been returning objects to the museum. Yet, as some of the dust has settled, thousands of antiquities are still missing including dozens from the main collection.
There has been speculation that some objects still missing were not taken by looters after the war, but were taken by Saddam Hussein or his entourage before or during the fighting. There have also been reports that early looters had keys to vaults that held rarer pieces, and some have speculated as to the systematic removal of key artifacts.
In the north Kurdish forces under the command of U.S. Special Forces captured oil-rich Kirkuk on April 10. On April 15, U.S. forces mostly took control of Tikrit.
Coalition troops began searching for the key members of Saddam Hussein's regime. These individuals were identified by a variety of means, most famously through sets of
most-wanted Iraqi playing cards.
On May 1, 2003 George W. Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, in a Lockheed S-3 Viking, where he gave a speech announcing the end of major combat operations in the Iraq war. Clearly visible in the background was a banner stating "Mission Accomplished". Bush's landing was criticized by opponents as an overly theatrical and expensive stunt by a chicken-hawk president. The banner, made by White House personnel (according to a CNN story  and placed there by the U.S. Navy, was criticized as premature - especially later as the guerrilla war dragged on.
It was soon found that "major combat" being over did not mean that peace had returned to Iraq. The U.S.-led occupation of Iraq was marked by ongoing violent conflict between the Iraqi resistance and the occupying forces. As of March 5, 2004, the total deaths of American soldiers as a direct result of the Iraq invasion, had reached over 500 mostly young men. Of these needless deaths the majority lost thier lives after the so called end of major hostilities announced by president Bush on May 1. At the time there is growing concern being voiced from some in the U.S. comparing the situation to previous wars such as the Vietnam War.
The ongoing resistance in Iraq was concentrated in, but not limited to, an area referred to by Western media and the occupying forces as the Sunni triangle and Baghdad . Critics point out that the regions where violence is most common are also the most populated regions. This resistance may be described as guerrilla warfare. The tactics is use were to include mortars, suicide bombers, roadside bombs, small arms fire, and RPGs, as well as purported sabotage against the oil infrastructure. There are also accusations about attacks toward the power and water infrastructure, but these are rather questionable in nature. In the only widely covered example of what some considered an attack on the power system, two US soldiers were killed, indicating that they may instead have been the target. In the purported attack against a water main, some witnesses reported seeing an explosion on the pipe, but US soldiers and repair crews on the scene stated that it did not appear to have been caused by an explosion.
There is evidence that some of the resistance was organized, perhaps by the fedayeen and other Saddam Hussein or Baath loyalists, religious radicals, Iraqis angered by the occupation, and foreign fighters. 
After the war, information began to emerge about several failed Iraqi peace initiatives, including offers as extensive as allowing 5,000 FBI agents in to search the country for weapons of mass destruction, support for the US-backed Roadmap For Peace, and the abdication of Saddam Hussein to be replaced under UN elections.
Events leading to the invasion
Since the end of the Gulf War of 1991, relations between the United States and Iraq remained poor. Hopes that Saddam Hussein's government would be overthrown from within had never come to pass, and fears that he was developing weapons of mass destruction in violation of UN Sanctions remained. In 1998 the United States Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act which stated "It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq." However, during the Bill Clinton administration, little was done to achieve this, aside from keeping a set of increasingly unpopular economic sanctions in place against Iraq.
The Republican Party's campaign platform in the U.S. presidential election, 2000 called for "full implementation" of the act and removal of Saddam Hussein with a focus on rebuilding a coalition, tougher sanctions, reinstating inspections, and support for the pro-democracy, opposition exile group, Iraqi National Congress.
In September 2000, in the Rebuilding America's Defenses report , the conservative Project for the New American Century thinktank advocated that the United States take a stronger military position against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Upon the election of George W. Bush as president, many hawkish advocates of such a policy (including some of those who wrote the 2000 report) were included in the new administration's foreign policy circle. According to former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, the attack was planned since the inauguration, and the first security council meeting discussed plans on invasion of the country. One year later, on the day of the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is reported to have written in his notes, "best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time. Not only UBL [Osama bin Laden]". Shortly thereafter, the George W. Bush administration announced a War on Terrorism, accompanied by the doctrine of preemptive military action dubbed the Bush doctrine. At some point after September 11th, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the United States that Iraq was planning terrorist attacks in the US. In 2002 the Iraq disarmament crisis arose primarily as a diplomatic situation. In October 2002, the United States Congress granted President Bush the authority to wage war against Iraq. The Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq was worded so as to encourage, but not require, UN Security Council approval for military action. In November 2002, United Nations actions regarding Iraq culminated in the unanimous passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and the resumption of weapons inspections. The United States also began preparations for an invasion of Iraq, with a host of diplomatic, public relations and military preparations.
Invasion justification and goals
The stated justification for the invasion included Iraqi production and use of weapons of mass destruction, links with terrorist organizations and human rights violations in Iraq under the Saddam Hussein government. To that end, the stated goals of the invasion, according to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, were to:
Many of the so-called neo-conservatives within the Bush administration had other, more ambitious goals for the war as well. Many hoped that the war could act as a catalyst for democracy and peace in the Middle East, and that once Iraq became democratic and prosperous other nations would quickly follow suit, and thus the social environment that allowed terrorism to flourish would be eliminated.
- end the Saddam Hussein government and help Iraq transition to democratic self-rule
- find and eliminate weapons of mass destruction and terrorists
- collect intelligence on networks of weapons of mass destruction and terrorists
- end sanctions and to deliver humanitarian support
- secure Iraq's oil fields and resources
Ultimately, however, the war was presented as largely being a case of removing banned weapons from Iraq. Administration officials, especially with the United States Department of
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