Today's Honour Roll

Today's Honour Roll recognizes 167 Australians who fell on this day in history.
See Full List
Name Date of Death Conflict
MCINERNEY, Herbert James 22 Mar 1917 World War 1
BENNETT, Arthur David 22 Mar 1945 World War 2
WARREN, Harold John 22 Mar 1945 World War 2
ALLEN, Charles 22 Mar 1918 World War 1
MCGILVRAY, Archibald William Edward 22 Mar 1918 World War 1

20th anniversary of the Invasion of Iraq

20 March 2003 - the beginning of the " War on Terror"

Twenty years ago, the invasion of Iraq by a coalition of powers primarily consisting of the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland, with the backing of numerous other nations began.

A map of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The lead up to the conflict has its roots back in the early 1990’s and the first Gulf War. After Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait was repelled, the U.S. and its allies tried to keep Saddam in check with military actions such as Operation Southern Watch.[i] To achieve this, the United Nations Security Council implemented several economic sanctions, while the United States and the United Kingdom declared no-fly zones over Iraq to shield the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan and Shias in the south from aerial assaults by the Iraqi regime. Additionally, inspections were regularly conducted to ensure that no weapons of mass destruction were being manufactured. In October 1998, removing the Iraqi government became official U.S. foreign policy with enactment of the Iraq Liberation Act.[ii]

George Bush Sr (Left) and George Bursh Jr. (Right)

Significant moves against Iraq were furthered with the election of George Bush Jr as President of the United States in November 2000. The son of George Bush Sr, who had been leader of the United States during the first Gulf War, Bush Jr. had campaigned on a policy to “Fully enact the Iraq Liberation Act”.[iii]

On September 20, 2001, slightly more than a week following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, Bush made a public address to a joint session of Congress (broadcast live worldwide) and unveiled his new "War on Terror." This declaration was accompanied by the announcement of a "pre-emptive" military action doctrine, which later became known as the Bush Doctrine. Allegations of a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda were made by some US Government officials who asserted that a highly secretive relationship existed between Saddam and al-Qaeda from 1992 to 2003, specifically through a series of meetings reportedly involving the Iraqi Intelligence Service. Bush began formally making his case to the international community for an invasion of Iraq in his 12 September 2002 address to the United Nations General Assembly.[iv]

While many key U.S. allies such as Australia and the United Kingdom were in support of Bush’s position, others such as France and Germany were critical and argued for continued diplomacy and weapons inspections. A compromise resolution was adopted that authorized the resumption of weapons inspections and promised "serious consequences" for non-compliance.[v]

A UN weapons inspector in Iraq, 2002.

The United Nations inspectors "did not find evidence of the continuation or resumption of programs of weapons of mass destruction" or significant quantities of proscribed items. They did supervise the destruction of a small number of empty chemical rocket warheads, 50 litres of mustard gas that had been declared by Iraq and sealed in 1998, and laboratory quantities of material that could be produced into mustard gas, along with 50 missiles of a design that Iraq stated did not exceed the permitted 150 km range, but which had traveled up to 183 km in tests.[vi]

In October 2002, the U.S. Congress passed the "Iraq Resolution". This resolution authorized the President to "use any means necessary" against Iraq.[vii] On 5 February 2003, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the United Nations General Assembly, continuing U.S. efforts to gain UN authorization for an invasion. His presentation to the UN Security Council contained a computer-generated image of a "mobile biological weapons laboratory". However, this information was based on claims of Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed "Curveball", an Iraqi emigrant living in Germany who later admitted that his claims had been false. [viii]

Powell also presented false assertions alleging Iraq had ties to al-Qaeda. As a follow-up to Powell's presentation, the United States, United Kingdom, Poland, Italy, Australia, Denmark, Japan, and Spain proposed a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, but NATO members like Canada, France, and Germany, together with Russia, strongly urged continued diplomacy. Facing a losing vote as well as a likely veto from France and Russia as permanent members of the Security Council, the US, UK, Poland, Spain, Denmark, Italy, Japan, and Australia eventually withdrew their resolution.[ix]

Opposition to the invasion continued to grow worldwide and on 15 February 2003 an anti-war protest that attracted between six and ten million people took place in more than 800 cities, the largest such protest in human history according to the Guinness Book of World Records.[x]

Melbourne protests Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War, 2003,

As February turned into March, the United States, United Kingdom, Poland, Australia, Spain, Denmark, and Italy began preparing for the invasion of Iraq, with a host of public relations and military moves. In his 17 March 2003 address to the nation, Bush demanded that Saddam and his two sons, Uday and Qusay, surrender and leave Iraq, giving them a 48-hour deadline.[xi]

Although some special forces had slipped into the country in the preceding days and CIA operatives were reportedly on the ground preparing Iraq for invasion from mid-2002, the main invasion began on the 19th of March 2003 at 9pm local time with a series of aerial strikes on targets around the country followed by a ground invasion starting in the early hours of the 20th of March. Involved in the initial part of the invasion were 466,985 American personnel, 45,000 British, 2000 Australians and 194 Poles as well as Peshmerga forces aligned with Iraqi Kurdistan.[xii]

US soldiers watch Iraqi paramilitary headquarter's burn Samawah, Iraq April 2003.

Australia’s involvement in this stage of the war consisted of Royal Australian Navy support for the amphibious assaults in the closing hours of the 19th of March. 1 Squadron Australian SASR had also slipped into the country in the days before and they set up observation posts and called in airstrikes. In total Australia contributed approximately 2,000 Australian Defence Force personnel, including a special forces task group, three warships and 14 F/A-18 Hornet aircraft. On 16 April 2003, Australian special operations forces captured the undefended Al Asad air base west of Baghdad. The base would later become the second largest Coalition facility post-invasion.[xiii]

HMAS Anzac firing on Iraqi positions and troop concentrations in Um-Qasr, 2003

The initial invasion of Iraq lasted until the 1st of May, 1 month, 1 week and 4 days since it began resulting in the collapse of the Saddam Hussein government and the start of the U.S. led occupation that lasted until 2011. In total 139 U.S. personnel and 33 33 British were killed in this stage of the war.[xiv] An estimated 11,000-45,000 Iraqis were killed.[xv]

The 2003 invasion of Iraq opened a terrible chapter in the history of Iraq that would immerse the country in chaos for more than a decade with the impact still being felt today. Although the government of Saddam Husein was overthrown, the weapons of mass destruction that the US used as a casus belli were not found and in the 2010’s, a new enemy arose that in many ways was worse than one it had replaced in the form of ISIS. Ultimately, the conflict has led to over 100,000 dead.[xvi]

By Nicholas Egan


[i] John Pike. "Operation Southern Watch". http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/southern_watch.htm, Globalsecurity.org. Retrieved 19 March 2023.
[ii] Iraqi Liberation Act 1998 (US)
[iii] "REPUBLICAN PLATFORM 2000". https://web.archive.org/web/20060421063832/http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2000/conventions/republican/features/platform.00/  CNN.
[iv] Gause, F. Gregory III (2009). The International Relations of the Persian Gulf. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 196.
[v] "U.S. Wants Peaceful Disarmament of Iraq, Says Negroponte". https://web.archive.org/web/20060103230014/http://manila.usembassy.gov/wwwhira3.html Embassy of the United States in Manila. 8 November 2002.
[vi] Blix, Hans (13 May 2003), Thirteenth quarterly report of the Executive Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission in accordance with paragraph 12 of Security council resolution 1284 (1999), UNMOVIC
[vii] Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-107publ243/pdf/PLAW-107publ243.pdf
[viii] Bob Drogin, Greg Miller. "'Curveball' Debacle Reignites CIA Feud".. Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2005
[ix] "US, Britain and Spain Abandon Resolution". Associated Press. 17 March 2003
[x] Largest Anti-War Rally, Guinness Book of World Records https://web.archive.org/web/20040904214302/http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/content_pages/record.asp?recordid=54365
[xi] "President Says Saddam Hussein Must Leave Iraq Within 48 Hours" (Press release). White House Office of the Press Secretary. 17 March 2003.
[xii] International Institute for Strategic Studies (3 February 2010). Hackett, James (ed.). The Military Balance 2010. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-85743-557-3.
[xiii] Neville, Leigh, Special Forces in the War on Terror (General Military), Osprey Publishing, 2015 ISBN 978-1-4728-0790-8, p. 97
[xiv] Operation Iraqi Freedom, https://web.archive.org/web/20160206184540/http://icasualties.org/Iraq/ByMonth.aspx icasualties.org
[xv] "Body counts". By Jonathan Steele. The Guardian. 28 May 2003.
[xvi] "Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey" By Gilbert Burnham, Riyadh Lafta, Shannon Doocy, and Les Roberts. The Lancet, 11 October 2006