A timeline and photos of a costly war

Sunday marks 20 years since US and coalition forces invaded Iraq on a mission to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and find weapons of mass destruction.

Former President George W. Bush and his administration bet the American public and the international community that Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction. The coalition found no such weapon, and two years later the ADM Commission, established by Bush, acknowledged in a report that the “ADM” fiasco was “one of the most public intelligence failures – and most damaging – in recent American history”.

The forces succeeded in ousting Hussein from power, setting the stage for an arduous nation-building project that would span almost a decade.

When the United States withdrew in 2011, the costs of war were high:

  • At least 4,480 American dead and more than 32,000 injured
  • At least 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead
  • At least $806 billion spent on war
  • Thousands of soldiers with illnesses believed to be caused by exposure to burning fireplaces

In 2003, an American public still stunned by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 overwhelmingly supported the war. But public opinion has now changed. A 2019 Pew Research Center survey found that 62% of Americans thought war was “not worth it.” In the same poll, 64% of veterans shared the same view.

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Bush and war supporters would continue to admit the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, but would maintain that the world would have been “much worse” had Hussein remained in power.

The Iraq war in pictures

In his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush hinted that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction.

“This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world,” Bush said. “States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil… The United States of America will not allow the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.

In this February 5, 2003 file photo, Secretary of State Colin Powell holds a vial he believes may contain anthrax as he presents evidence of Iraq's alleged weapons programs to the United Nations Security Council.

Just over a month before the invasion, Secretary of State Colin Powell gave an impassioned speech and presentation to the United Nations Security Council, claiming that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction.

The speech helped swing the American public in favor of the war. Powell, who died in 2021, would go on to regret the speech.

“I will always regret it,” Powell said in an interview with The Harvard Gazette five years later. “It was a terrible mistake on our part and the intelligence community… I wish it had been different.”

Colin Powell:Late official lent his prestige to make the case for war in Iraq: ‘I will always regret it’

Several thousand people walk down 16th Street March 8, 2003 to the White House in Washington to protest the Bush administration's war plan against Iraq. The surprisingly mild weather had several thousand people chanting and cheering at a rally ahead of their planned march to the Ellipse, just south of the White House. The event was organized by the group calling itself CodePink, the name of a protest against the government's color-coded terror alert system.

As war became imminent, thousands of protesters across the United States and around the world marched.

Employees and patrons of the Township Grille in Matthews, North Carolina watch as President Bush announces the start of US-led military action in Iraq late on the evening of March 19, 2003.

After the deadline he had given Hussein to leave Iraq expired, Bush announced the start of the invasion on the evening of March 19, 2003.

Smoke blankets the presidential palace compound in Baghdad March 21, 2003 during a massive U.S.-led airstrike on the Iraqi capital. Smoke billowed from several targeted sites, including one of President Saddam Hussein's palaces, an AFP correspondent said.

US airstrikes hit Iraq to clear the way for invading troops.

US Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines wear their gas masks March 21, 2003 as they prepare to advance towards Iraq.
An Iraqi woman screams as she arrives with her injured husband and son at al-Kindi hospital in this file photo from April 8, 2003, in Baghdad.
Razzaq Kazem al-Khafaj mourns the body of his mother in Hilla, in the southern province of Babylon, April 1, 2003. Khafaj lost 15 members of his family, including six children, when his car was bombed by helicopters from the coalition as he fled al-Haidariyeh to Babylon. Thirty-three civilians were killed and 310 injured in an American-British coalition shelling of the residential area of ​​Nader south of the town of Hilla, 80 km south of Baghdad.
In this April 9, 2003 file photo, an Iraqi man, lower right, looks at the cape. Edward Chin of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment covers the face of a statue of Saddam Hussein with an American flag before toppling the statue in downtown Baghdad, Iraq.

After three weeks of fighting, American troops take Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, and overthrow the statue of Hussein, symbolically ending his reign.

President Bush launches a "thumbs up" after declaring an end to major fighting in Iraq while speaking aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier off the California coast, in this May 1, 2003 file photo.

In May 2003, Bush declared “mission accomplished,” but the war would drag on for years as sectarian violence and insurgency engulfed the country.

A US soldier from the 1st Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division prepares to enter the hole where ousted dictator Saddam Hussein was captured in Ad Dawr on December 15, 2003. Two days earlier, Hussein had been captured there in the hole under a small hut, near his hometown of Tikrit, 110 miles north of Baghdad.
Captured former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein undergoes medical examinations in Baghdad December 14, 2003 in this television image.

Hussein was captured by US forces in December 2003. He will be tried and found guilty of crimes against humanity. He was executed in 2006.

Rows of coffin-shaped boxes, draped in flags representing U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, are carried by demonstrators during an anti-Bush demonstration in New York August 29, 2004, the day before the Republican National Convention.

The United States saw protests throughout the war.

U.S. Marines, no names available, mourn during a memorial service for 31 U.S. servicemen at Camp Korean Village near Ar Rutbah in western Iraq February 2, 2005. Thirty Marines and one sailor died on January 26, 2005 when their helicopter crashed near Ar Rutbah while conducting security operations.
A photo of the fallen American soldier, Sgt. Jerry Lee Bonifacio Jr., of Bravo Company, 1-184 assigned to TF 4-64, 3rd Infantry Division, sits between the boots of soldiers standing at attention during a memorial service at the base U.S. Army FOB Prosperity in central Baghdad, Oct. 17, 2019. 13, 2005.
2nd Army Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, Baker Company PFC Jonathan Burton of Louisville, Kentucky, patrols the mahallah (neighborhood) of Toma on the outskirts of Baghdad around the corner where on June 28, 2007, a patrol from the Baker Company was hit by an IED in Toma and five soldiers were killed and 13 injured.
2nd Army Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, soldiers from Baker Company patrol the Toma mahallah (neighborhood) on the outskirts of Baghdad.
Mary McHugh mourns her slain fiancé Sgt. James Regan at "Section 60" from Arlington National Cemetery on May 27, 2007. Regan, a U.S. Army Ranger, was killed by an IED blast in Iraq in February 2007, and it was the first time McHugh had visited the grave since the funeral. Section 60 is the resting place of many American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A newsstand owner attaches a magazine with images of U.S. election favorites in central Baghdad, November 04, 2008.
A US soldier in Baghdad, Iraq watches US President-elect Barack Obama on television November 5, 2008.

President Barack Obama, elected in 2008, promised to withdraw troops from Iraq.

A picture taken May 15, 2011 shows US soldiers standing at attention in front of US and Iraqi flags during a handover ceremony near the northern Iraqi town of Hawija. President Barack Obama announced on October 21, 2011 that he would withdraw all US forces from Iraq by the end of the year.
The last vehicles of a convoy from the U.S. Army's 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division cross the Iraq-Kuwait border, December 18, 2011. The brigade's special troops battalion was the last American soldier to leave Iraq.

The United States completed its withdrawal from the country in December 2011, leaving security in the hands of the Iraqi government.

Major conflicts and violence would continue to rock the country. A rising terrorist group, ISIS, would emerge and conquer parts of neighboring Iraq and Syria in the mid-2010s.

Today, a small network of 2,500 American troops are stationed in the country as part of the United States’ continued partnership with Iraq.

Contributors: Tom Vanden Brook and Dan Nowicki, USA TODAY Network; The Associated Press

USA Today

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