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The United States government of George W Bush seemed to have been keen to have a war against Saddam Hussein, even before they took office. They allege that this is because he had "weapons of mass destruction" or even may have been connected to the terror network of Osama bin Laden following the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001. (There is in fact no evidence for either of these assertions. An account in Ron Suskind - The Way of the World says that before the war began the head of Iraqi intelligence, Tahir Jalil Habbush, told an MI5 officer in Jordan that there were no weapons.)

The reason is probably set out in the Project for a New American Century, the ideological statement of those who came to power in the US in 2001 until they lost the Congressional elections in 2006. These people seem to have had grandiose notions of American power, remarkably similar to the delusions of the German ruling group in 1914 - see First World War page, and Norman Stone's essential book.

Possibly, however, this article may give the reason - Mr Bush thought he heard the voice of God telling him to.

Another possibility is that it was from a desire for revenge against an alleged plot against the elder Bush while he was visiting Kuwait.

Another possible cause is from a claim by a Moroccan acting as a spy for France and Britain within Al Qaeda. He reported that members of the organisation were trained to lie under torture and that one prominent prisoner had claimed to American interrogator that Saddam had been assisting them. If the US government acted on this lie then the invasion of Iraq was at the wish of Osama, to increase the tension between the west and the Islamic world. This was broadcast by the BBC on 16 Nov 2006.
Guardian report

Another possibility is that an Iranian agent, Ahmed Chelabi made the Americans believe that Saddam had nuclear and bilogical weapons. Thus it was Iran's policy to eliminate Iraq as a rival power that was the real cause of the war, the US obliging them.

Following the Kuwait war, a United Nations resolution ordered Iraq to allow its nuclear, biological and chemical war stocks and manufacturing to be inspected and destroyed. The inspectors did indeed find many weapons and factories and oversaw the destruction of poison gases, biological weapons, missiles and nuclear manufacturing plants.

The Iraq government (Saddam Hussein) is said to have made the inspectors leave in 1997 (though some say that the inspectors withdrew themselves, fearing a military attack on Iraq from the US and British forces). Although aircraft of Britain and the US have been bombing various parts of Iraq since then (indeed, since the end of the Kuwait war) it was not clear whether the Iraqis had been continuing to build these weapons. It seems unlikely there is a serious nuclear program as the facilities needed would be large and visible to Space Satellite inspection. (The International Atomic Energy Agency inspector's report confirms this impression.) At the time of the war it was not clear whether there might have been biological weapons production as this can be concealed easily. Chemical weapons can also be made in small facilities. Subsequent inspection showed none. After intensive search by American teams no nuclear, biological or chemical weapons were found. It seems Saddam's government had told the truth when they said these weapons had been destroyed. The UN teams had found the same.

Was Iraq a threat to the neighbors?
This seemed unlikely even before the war started as it was clear much of his army consisted of unwilling conscripts. Many of these deserted during the Kuwait war whenever they had the opportunity. In this war, however, fewer seem to have done so at first, though many did.

Was Iraq a threat to the United States?
This too seems unlikely as Iraq is not known to control large scale terrorist groups (though assassinations of opposition people in foreign states was not unknown).
The US persuaded (November 2002) the Security Council to pass a Resolution demanding the re-admission of Weapons Inspectors. There was at the same time a visible movement of US troops, ships and aircraft to the area.

Was Iraq connected with Osama bin Laden?
No evidence has been presented to show any link. As a secularist, Saddam Hussein was seen as an enemy of the fanatical type of Islam promoted by Osama. However, once Iraq was occupied, Osama's supporters are believed to have infiltrated the country, and some of the guerrillas may be associated with him. In the Kurdish area there was a group called Ansari (named after the early helpers of Mohammed) who may have been associated with Osama. These may have become more active - although an area believed to have been their main training camp was destroyed by American and Kurdish troops.

Will there be an invasion of Iraq? (2002)
The president of the US and other government spokesmen had been demanding 'regime change' - presumably meaning the replacement of Saddam as head of government, and perhaps also the ending of the dictatorship. Invasion began on 20 March 2003. The only states to actively support this are: Australia, Britain, Kuwait, Spain. Bulgaria provided a base. Turkey grudgingly allowed use of air space. Thus it may well be seen as an act of American empire-building. There was no agreement by other members of the United Nations Security Council

Turkish complications
Turkey sent troops across the northern border, presumably with the intention of controlling the Kurds. They did not send troops to assist in the occupation. This may well be because it was clear that Iraqis would not accept their former imperial rulers. It was also because the war was very unpopular in Turkey.

Long war?
Apparently the American government expected resistance to collapse almost at once. The first three days showed that, although a few Iraqi troops surrendered, enough fought back to prolong the war. But civilians were wary of rebelling after what happened after the Kuwait war, when they were encouraged to rise, but not helped. Bombing of government and Ba'ath party buildings and military targets began the war, and there was an invasion by armored forces, both American and British. Some Iraqi troops surrendered, but it looks as though the extremely repressive regime with party enforcement death squads in every group of troops prevented desertion, while similar extreme police measures threatening death prevented an uprising in the cities until the later stages of the war. Baghdad collapsed on about 8 April.

Were the people of Iraq freed from their extremely obnoxious regime? Bush and Blair claimed (after the invasion) that this was an important war aim.
The occupation by British forces of Basra showed that the regime had melted away, especially after the (falsely) reported death of Ali Hassan Al Majid "Chemical Ali" the commander of the south, and one of the worst war criminals of the Ba'ath regime. When there was no government people came out on to the streets and broke into government buildings taking away everything movable, and removed statues and portraits of Saddam. But the looting then extended to almost all property including even hospitals as the police no longer existed.

Possibly the most unfortunate action of the occupation government was to disband the Iraqi army, police and governmental institutions. As a result the American governor had no tools to administer the country. (It is said that the State department had had a plan for the occupation but that the Secretary for War, Donald Rumsfeld, had ignored it.) The abolition of the government structure may well have made the subsequent looting and guerrilla war inevitable.

Guerrilla War
There seems to be a concerted campaign against the occupation forces, at first thought to be directed by Saddam Hussein, while he was uncaptured, but by April 2004 looking like a popular uprising acquiesced in by many (mainly Sunni) Iraqis. There may also be activity by Radical Islamists perhaps assisted by associates of Osama bin Laden.

People wondered whether the occupation would result in a government controlled by Iraqis. First, there was a Governing Council appointed by an American Administrator who promised there would be a handover to an Iraqi government by July 2004. This occurred a few days before on 28 June. However, there were no elections. The new government was selected in a process with some UN involvement but was largely controlled by the US administrator.

Many people suspected that what the US intended was a puppet government appointed by the US that would then request American assistance in the 14 bases the Americans are beginning to build. This is of course similar to the claims the USSR made for its presence in Afghanistan. It can be confidently predicted that this situation would result in continual military opposition and guerrilla war. The British had done something similar when they set up the monarchy, apparently independent but in reality needing British military force to keep it in being. The main leader of the Shi'ite Muslims insisted there must be free elections. There were elections in January 2005. The Iraqi government eventually formed after the elections was dominated by those who voted - the Shi'ites and the Kurds. The Sunnis are not represented as much as they would like.

There is a report that Kurds are preparing a Kurdish army under cover of the new Iraqi army to seize control of Irbil and parts of Mosul as a preparation for Kurdish independence.

Civil War
By 2006 there is a worsening interior situation as suicide car bombs occur several times a day, killing thousands of people. It is not clear who are coordinating these attacks. They seem to be by Sunni Arabs, trying to regain control of the country from the Shi'ite dominated government. However, there are also killings of Sunnis, possibly by Shi'ite attackers.

It is clear that neither the occupation forces nor the elected government have much influence over what is happening.

In both the US and Britain there are signs (October 2006) that the governments are looking for a way to withdraw their forces. This would leave behind a civil war likely to be "won" by Shi'ites controlled by Iran in the south, Saddamists in the center, and Kurds in the north.

The war has perhaps demonstrated to the world what the Suez war in 1956 did - the limits to military power. The United States has a huge military machine, as Britain had in 1956. But that machine cannot control events. The Suez war demonstrated that the British Empire had ended. Does the Iraq war show the end of American hegemony?

End game?

The US government has apparently realised (November 2006) that it cannot achieve any of its aims. The signs are that they will eventually agree to take the western armies out. What will happen to the Iraqis - believed to have suffered at least 600,000 deaths?

In 2007 Bush announced an increase in US forces - a Surge - and a new policy of recruiting Sunni allies and constructing walls between Shi'ite and Sunni areas in Baghdad. He has claimed that this policy has reduced violence. Has it? Possibly only a reduction in attacks on US forces but civilian deaths continue at a high level.

March 2008
The Shi'ite dominated government forces moved in force to Basra, apparently attempting to suppress the Mahdi Army, the militia formed by Bani Al Sadr. The Shi'ite faction controlling the government seems to be hostile to the faction controlled by Sadr.

The main factor now (2009) seems to be uncertainty about what President Obama's policy will be. He needs the money the war is costing in order to restore the US economy, and he needs the troops, to be sent to Afghanistan. He has promised to withdraw combat troops within a year.

He announced on 21 October 2011 that all American troops would leave "at the end of the year".

Shortly after they left, the government structure set up in Iraq began to unravel with a warrant issued by the ShiĠite Prime Minister for the Sunni vice President and the Sunnis leaving the coalition government.

Interesting reading

James Baker, Lee Hamilton et al. - Iraq Study Group Report
All of their recommendations seem to have been ignored by President G.W. Bush

Bob Woodward - Plan of attack

Bob Woodward - State of denial

Die Macht der Verdrängung. George W. Bush, das Weiße Haus und der Irak. State of Denial (Goldmanns Taschenbücher)
Peter Galbraith - End of Iraq

Psychology of Military Incompetence - Norman Dixon

New world disorder - Todorov

Ron Suskind - The Way of the World

Iraq war documents from Dartmouth College
Article about Chilcot enquiry

Last revised 28/12/11

 Notes on the war


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