The US Intervention in Iraq


The US Intervention in Iraq

Gürkan ATEŞ




      The ethnic population of Iraq is composed of 75% of Arab, 15% Kurdish and 5% Turkoman, Assyrian, or others. Regarding religion, 97% of the population is Muslim  (whereby 60%-65% is Shi’a & 32%-37 % is Sunni), and 3% is Christian or other. The spoken language is Arabic, Kurdish (official in Kurdish regions), Assyrian & Armenian.

Iraq is a developing parliamentary democracy composed of 18 governorates (Al Anbar, Al Basrah, Al Muthanna, Al Qadisiyah, An Najaf, Arbil, As Sulaymaniyah, At Ta'mim, Babil, Baghdad, Dahuk, Dhi Qar, Diyala, Karbala', Maysan, Ninawa, Salah ad Din, Wasit). The country was under Baath Party rule from 1968 to 2003. In 1979, Saddam Hussein took control and remained president until 2003, after which he was unseated by a US-led invasion. 

In 1970, the Iraqi government agreed to create the “Kurdish Autonomous Region” where the recent president is Mesoud Barzani. In 1991 the Kurdish region rose up against President Saddam Hussein and gained de facto independence under the protection of a no fly zone.

Iraq was formerly part of the Ottoman Empire and was occupied by Britain during World War I. In 1920, it was declared a League of Nations mandate under United Kingdom administration. Then, Iraq gained its independence as a kingdom on 3 October 1932. In 1958, a republic was proclaimed in 1958, but military strongmen ruled the country until 2003; the

last was Saddam Hussein. Territorial disputes with Iran led to an inconclusive and costly eight-year war between 1980 and 1988. [1]




The 2003 US-Iraq war backs to the 1990 Persian Gulf War. By the time the ceasefire with Iran was signed in August 1988, Iraq was bankrupt and heavily indebted to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. In 1990, Iraq invades Kuwait on the base that the country was producing too much oil; therefore undercutting the value of Iraq’s oil supply.

Within days, the United Nations (UN) imposes economic sanctions on Iraq for attempting to annex Kuwait. Many UNSC resolutions were passed regarding the conflict; one of the most important was Resolution 678 [2], passed on November 29, 1990 giving Iraq a withdrawal deadline of January 15, 1991 and authorizing “all necessary means to uphold and implement Resolution 660” which is a diplomatic expression authorizing the use of force.

The UN’s decisions were supported by all the members of the Security Council. In the begining of the process, Bush tried to form a multilateral base for the intervention and obtained the support of the European Powers. The European Powers supported all the desicions regarding the exclusion of Iraq from Kuwait. There was a consensus between the U.S. and the European Powers regarding the exclusion of Iraq from Kuwait.

It was assumed that Iraq wanted to acquire Kuwait’s rich oil fields and expand its power in the region. Therefore, US was fearing Iraq’s strategic intentions and especially Secretary of State James Baker, made a “coalition of forces” consisting of forces from 34 countries, in order to oppose Iraq. This “coalition of forces” was made up by the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Hungary, Italy, Kuwait, Morocco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Korea, Spain, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States itself.[3]

On January 12, 1991 the US Congress authorized the use of military force to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. When Iraq ignored a UN Security Council deadline to withdraw from Kuwait, the “coalition of forces” began a large air offensive on January 16–17, 1991. Iraq launched ballistic missiles against neighbouring coalition states as well as Israel.

Then, a ground offensive by the coalition forces brought an end to the war. One hundred hours after the ground campaign started, President Bush declared a cease-fire and on February 27, 1991 he declared that Kuwait had been liberated.

As part of the cease-fire agreement, the UNSC under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, adopted resolution 687 [4] on 3 April 1991, authorizing UN member states to use “all necessary means” to “restore international peace and security in the area.” The resolution called for weapons inspectors to search locations in Iraq for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, as well as weapons that exceed an effective distance of 150 kilometres. It also includes provisions asking for the removal of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

It was estimated that Iraqi military deaths were around 100,000. The war also caused deep damages to the region’s environment. The foremost condition was that Iraq destroy its nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs. The embargo continued into the 21st centurty, and ended only after the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003.

 The justifications to the Gulf War were as follows:

  • Iraqi violation of Kuwaiti territorial integrity,
  • the support of long-time ally, Saudi Arabia, who is a key supplier of oil and has a geopolitical importance,
  • human rights abuses under President Saddam Hussein who possessed chemical weapons (it is said that he had previously used against his own people and against Iranian troops in the Iran-Iraq war) and biological weapons and was known to be attempting to build atomic bombs.




The United States Congress passed the “Iraq Liberation Act of 1998” [5], an official statement of US policy calling for political change in Iraq. Since the Persian Gulf War, the U.S. military had contingency plans to invade Iraq but the military plans deepened in the months after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. Following the conclusion of the 1991 Gulf War, relations between the US, the UN, and Iraq remained complicated. Iraq had economic sanctions, and had ongoing inspections of Iraqi weapons programs.

After the election of George W. Bush as US President in 2000, the US moved towards a more active policy of “regime change” in Iraq. The Republican Party’s campaign platform in the 2000 election, called for the removal of Saddam Hussein. Key Bush advisors, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld’s Deputy Paul Wolfowitz, were longstanding advocates of invading Iraq.  

In 2002, Bush tendency for an Iraq invasion became more apparent; he named Iraq a member of the “Axis of Evil” and he said that “US will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”[6] Over the next year, the Bush Administration began pushing for international support for an invasion of Iraq with a presentation at the UNSC; but they failed to gain UN support.




Besides failing to obtain UN support for the invasion of Iraq, the United States also faced complication with Turkey. The US hoped to open a northern front against Iraq from Turkey. The plan was to use Turkish soil by the U.S. Army. The US offered $6 billion in grants and additional billions in credits if Turkey agreed to its plan[7], but Turkey’s parliament rejected the plan.[8] Turkey’s decision represented a major setback for the Bush administration.

Although faced with the opposition in the UNSC and reluctance on the part of Turkey, the US and Britain remained determined to take military action and assembled a coalition force in Kuwait.

In March 20, 2003 U.S. and British forces (and smaller numbers of Australian and Polish soldiers) invaded Iraq from Kuwait, for the reason that Iraq had failed to abandon its nuclear and chemical weapons development program in violation of the UNSC resolution 687.  They faced an Iraqi military of less than 400,000 troops, which were quickly devastated by US air attacks. Major combat engagements ended about three weeks later, after US troops entered Baghdad and got the Hussein regime fall down. The military campaign was short and one-sided. President Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1, 2003.

However by late April 2003, a serious and persistent guerrilla struggle had been launched within the Sunni Arab against the foreign military presence in the country. The guerrilla movement grew in strength; this made impossible for the United States to withdraw most of its troops in summer 2003, as the Department of Defense had intended.

The justifications to the invasion of Iraq were as follows:

  • Weapons Of Mass Destruction (WMD)
  • Iraqi links to terrorist organizations (such as Al-Qaeda)
  • Combating terrorism (“war on terror”)
  • Human rights violation by Saddam Hussein government
  • Bringing democracy to the Middle East
  • Establishing long term Middle East military presence
  • Avoid Iran’s power - Both  US and UK were concerned that if Saddam Hussein died, Iraq would become an Islamic state under the control of Iran. The invasion of Iraq and the setting up of a democratic government were seen as the only way of avoiding this scenario.
  • UN resolution violation


      However, the objectives/interest of the invasion were:

  • To gain control of Persian Gulf oil; that we can call a “war for oil”.
  • The establishment of permanent US military bases in Iraq as a way of projecting power[9]
  • Create supportive regimes or government in the Middle East
  • The intervention is a part of the “Greater Middle East Project”
  • To ensure regional dominance and stability; it is important for US to prevent any single power from controlling the region
  • Preserve the security of Israel[10]




In 2002, the US began to campaign for the overthrow of Iraq’s President, Saddam Hussein. Opinion on the war was divided between nations.

Before the invasion, the US government announced that 49 countries were joined in a “coalition of the willing” in favor of removing Saddam Hussein from power, with some number of other countries expressing their support in private. The 49 countries mentioned by the “White House” were; Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Republic of Macedonia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Tonga, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, and Uzbekistan. [11] Four countries supplied combat forces directly participating in the invasion of Iraq: US, UK, Australia, and Poland. Other countries provided political, logistical and intelligence support as well as humanitarian and reconstruction aid.

The “Vilnius Ten” of the Eastern European countries composed of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Croatia, Macedonia were in general support of the US. French President Jacques Chirac criticised the Eastern European Countries by saying: “it’s not well brought up behavior. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet”[12]. These countries were not members of the European Union at that time, and this was a threat by France for their accession.

On the other hand, key US allies in the NATO, including France and Germany, were opposing the plans to invade Iraq; instead they requested for continued diplomacy and weapons inspections. After debate, the UNSC adopted a resolution, 1441[13] in 2002, offering Iraq “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations” and which authorized the resumption of weapons inspections and promised “serious consequences” for non-compliance. UNSC members France and Russia made clear that they did not believe these consequences to include the use of force to overthrow the Iraqi government. The opposition of France and Germany, longtime U.S. allies, particularly troubled the Bush administration. These countries defended disarmament through diplomacy and thought that military intervention would be the worst solution.                                      




As stated in the previous section, on 8 November 2002, the UNSC passed Resolution 1441, giving Iraq “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations” including unrestricted inspections by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Saddam Hussein accepted the resolution on 13 November 2002 and inspectors returned to Iraq. Between that time and the time of the invasion, the IAEA found “no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons programme in Iraq[14].

On the contrary to US claims, the investigation concluded that Iraq had destroyed all major stockpiles of WMD and ceased production in 1991 when sanctions were imposed. The failure to find evidence of Iraqi weapons programs following the invasion, led to considerable controversy in the United States and worldwide, including claims by critics of the war that the Bush and Blair Administrations deliberately manipulated and misused intelligence to push for an invasion.




On May 1, 2003 President Bush declared the “end of major combat operations” in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was removed from power and thus political breakdown occurred. Following the situation, civil violence increased; insurgency began with guerilla attacks on Mosul, Tikrit and Fallujah. Besides national problems in the development of political balance, economy, infrastructure, and use of the country’s huge reserves of oil started. In December 2003, Saddam was captured and  was hanged on December 30, 2006.

Coalition forces remain in Iraq under a UNSC mandate, helping to provide security and to support the freely elected government.

The active troops of the major “coalition of forces” and the number of their soldiers at the time of invasion and its current situation is as follows;

  • United States: 250,000 invasion/168,000 current (September 2007)
  • United Kingdom: 45,000 invasion/4,500 current (December 2007)
  • Poland: 194 invasion/ 900 current (February 2007)
  • Australia: 2,000 invasion/1,000 current (November 2007)[15]

      Following the invasion, the United States established the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to govern Iraq. CPA transferred full governmental authority (sovereignty) on 30 June 2004[16] to the Iraqi Interim Government. The elections in Iraq were held on January 2005 whereby President is Jalal Talabani, Vice Presidents are Adil Abd Al-Mahdi and Tariq al-Hashimi and Prime Minister is Nuri al-Maliki. Besides, Iraq’s permanent constitution was approved on 15 October 2005 with a constitutional referendum where more than 63% of eligible Iraqis came out across the country to vote  and it passed with a 78% overall majority.

In 2007, “Foreign Policy Magazine” named Iraq as the second most unstable nation in the world after Sudan.

On the other hand, studies (The Lancet study)[17] have placed the number of civilians deaths as high as 655,000.




Many countries dispute the legitimacy of the invasion.

Firstly, the use of force by a state is prohibited by Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter[18]. The only exceptions to the use of force are with Security Council authorisation under Chapter VII[19] but this authorisation was not obtained, or in the case of self-defense against an armed attack by another state written under Article 51 of the Charter[20],  but Iraq never attacked either state. It is said that; the period before US invaded Iraq, is legally a cease-fire period, therefore we cannot talk about self-defense in this case[21]. Therefore the use of force by the US and the UK against Iraq is widely considered to have been illegal and is seen by many as a violation of international law breaking the UN Charter, because the US failed to gain UN support for the military intervention.

However, the US believe that the invasion was explicitly authorised by UNSC Resolution 678 and that it is in accordance with international law. States such as Russia, China and France made a joint statement saying that UN Resolution 1441, did not authorize the use of force and that a further resolution was needed.

The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed his opinion regarding the invasion of Iraq that “it was not in conformity with the UN charter from our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal.”[22]  

On the other hand, some critics claim that US was applying double standards; because for example Israel also violates UN resolutions and have WMD, therefore there is a UNSC resolution that may support an intervention in Israel.

Iraq intervention was an “unprovoked” attack on an independent country; thus being a violation of international law. Saddam Hussein’s regime was not a sufficient threat to justify the military invasion.

Regarding the opposition movements in other nations, in 41 countries the majority of the populace did not support an invasion of Iraq without UN authorisation. In Europe, the peace movement was very strong, especially in Germany, where 3/4 of the population were opposed to the war.




To conclude, the success of the invasion is to be discussed. Regarding the aims of the invasion, the coalition forces have been successful in removing Saddam Hussein from power and in bringing democracy to Iraq. However, the occupation failed in its stated interest to destroy the WMD and none have been found although some chemical shells were found that were left over from the Iran-Iraq War. Besides, it is also argued that there was little or no pre-existence of Al-Qaeda presence in Iraq.

The 2003 invasion was not a humanitarian intervention but a military one. The US and UK did not  brought freedom to the Iraqi people or to the Middle East, but instead brought suffering and oppression. Further, the situation in Iraq has been expressed by the U.S. Secretary of State James Baker in October 2006 as being “a helluva mess”[23].

The Persian Gulf war was a multinational intervention while the 2003 Iraq intervention war was more a unilateral one.

In November 2006, the UNSC voted to extend the mandate of the multinational force in Iraq until the end of 2007. The move was requested by the Iraqi government who needed the troops until it built up its own security forces.

In 2006, “Foreign Policy Magazine” named Iraq as “the 2nd most unstable nation in the world”[24]. After this failure, US has been loosing its dominance in the view of other countries. On November 7, 2006, US midterm elections removed the Republican Party from control of both Chambers of the US Congress. The failings in the Iraq War were cited as one of the main causes of the Republicans’ defeat.

It can be argued that the military intervention was not a necessity; it was not a humanitary intervention instead it has been realised in order to meet US’s own interests. Also, the war was not necessary for the defense of the US, it was a war of choice. The intervention was rather a “mistake”; the emphasis was put on the WMD and the security threat of Saddam Hussein to the US and its allies. However these were not justified as they were wrong. It has been easy and short to remove Saddam Hussein from power and the claims regarding the existence of WMD were wrong. The US government, in this sense, made a “mistake” in the policy regarding the justification of the war. Therefore, this “failure” shows that the US need to redefine its hegemonic project.


[6] President Delivers State of the Union Address

[7] Bill Park, “Strategic Location, Political Dislocation: Turkey, The United States, and Northern Iraq”, Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal, Volume 7, No. 2 - June 2003

[9]  RUPE, “Irak İşgalinin Perde Arkası”,Yordam Kitap 2006, p.72

[10]Robert Satloff, “America, Europe, and the Middle East in the 1990s: Interests and Policies” in “Allies Divided: Transatlantic Policies for the Greater Middle East”, 1997 The MIT press, p.10-11

[14]  The Status of Nuclear Inspections in Iraq: An Update

[16]  Law of the Administration for the state of Iraq for the transitional period

[17]Gilbert Burnham, Riyadh Lafta, Shannon Doocy, Les Roberts, The Lancet Study, “Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey” October 11, 2006 p.6

[18] Charter of the United Nations, Chapter I, Article 2 (4)

[19] Charter of the United Nations, Chapter VII, Action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of agression.

[20] Charter of the United Nations, Chapter VII, Article 51

[21] İbrahim Kaya, “Irak Savaşı’nda meşruiyet ve Cenevre Hukuku”, editörler Ü.Özdağ, S.Laçiner, S.Erkmen,  Irak Krizi (2002-2003) 2003, Ankara Asam yayınları-p. 315

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