May 1st marked the twentieth anniversary of President George W. Bush’s declaration that the US mission in Iraq had been accomplished. He made the statement aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln just six weeks after US troops led the invasion of Iraq and toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. The soldiers the President addressed did not know then that the conflict would drag on for several years and cause the deaths of 4,400 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
Bush said at the time that America had fought for the cause of liberty, but many believed, and still believe twenty years on, that the real motivation was oil.
The official story of the war was that Iraq supported Al-Qaeda – the terrorist group behind the attacks on America on September 11th, 2001. Both Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair also warned that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction – a claim that would later prove untrue.
The UN Security Council in 2002 demanded that Iraq allow weapons inspectors unfettered access to its military arsenal, and first appearances suggested Saddam Hussein was cooperating. In early 2003 however, the US and UK said Hussein was hiding devastating armaments. Germany and France both called for patience and calm and opposed moves toward war.
In 2003, without consulting the UN, the US, and UK gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq. He refused. On the morning of March 20th, 2003, American forces launched the opening missiles of the war – targeting a bunker in which Hussein was believed to be meeting his staff. Further strikes directed at military installations followed.
On April 9th, Iraqis jubilantly dismantled statues of Saddam Hussein, and years of US-led occupation began. A new government was formed in 2005, and the last US troops withdrew from the country in 2011. Saddam Hussein was executed on December 30th, 2006. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity at a special tribunal — the conviction related to the killing of 100s of civilians in Dujail in 1982.