Photos: Iraq war’s 20th anniversary — the advance from Kuwait to the occupation of Baghdad
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Then-President George W. Bush and his British counterpart, Prime Minister Tony Blair, signed off on a war based on the myth that the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, harbored weapons of mass destruction.
In less than a month, Hussein's government would be overthrown and the country would be plunged into a state of chaos that has lasted decades. Between 2003 and 2019, an estimated 275,000 Iraqi civilians were killed by direct violence stemming from the invasion.
On March 17, 2003, Bush ordered Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq within 48 hours, or the country would be invaded. Two days later, on March 19, Bush declared war with Iraq, stating that it would be a “broad and concerted campaign.”
“Operation Iraqi Freedom” began with an aerial bombardment, in a bid to topple the Iraqi leadership and allow for a ground invasion. The next day, 150,000 troops from the U.S.-led coalition, composed of American, British, Australian and Polish soldiers, marched over the border from Kuwait into Iraq.
The same day, Hussein called on the people of Iraq to take action against the “criminal junior Bush.”
“His criminal act comes from — and the act of those who helped him, and his followers,” Hussein said in a public address. “This is added to the series of their shameful crimes against Iraq and humanity.”
The battle of Nasiriyah began on March 23, as U.S.-led forces pushed towards Baghdad, and it continued until April 2, when the Iraqi resistance was defeated.
By April 9, coalition troops had successfully occupied Baghdad, forcing Hussein into hiding. Images of American soldiers toppling Hussein’s statue in Firdos Square were broadcast around the world. Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld described the scene at the time as “breathtaking.”
One year later, then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan would call the war in Iraq “illegal,” stating that the invasion was not sanctioned by the Security Council.
“From our point of view and from the charter point of view, it was illegal,” Annan told the BBC at the time. The war in Iraq would continue for another seven years.