Iraq War -- One Year Later, 03/22/04
March 19 marked the first anniversary of the
start of the U.S. war in Iraq, a war that toppled what many considered
to be the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, but also appears to have
put a rift between the United States and many of its allies as the United
States for the first time launched a major military offensive against
a country without being attacked first.
As part of the anniversary, President Bush spoke to a delegation of international
leaders whose countries supported the U.S. by sending troops to Iraq.
The president used the anniversary to comment on international efforts
to combat terrorism, saying the former Iraq regime provided an environment
for harboring and aiding terrorists. He called on countries to continue
supporting Iraq's reconstruction and the fight against terror.
"Any sign of weakness or retreat simply validates terrorist violence
and invites more violence for all nations. The only certain way to protect
our people is by united and decisive action," he said.
The anniversary has also been an opportunity for Americans and the international
community to reflect on whether the war was a success or failure. U.S.
officials say they consider the war a success - Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz on Thursday called it a "victory." However, the
administration's critics have said the fact that investigators have not
found weapons of mass destruction -- one of the main reasons given for
launching the invasion -- has made other countries lose trust in the United
Current security conditions
in Iraq, where deadly attacks on Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops continue,
have also led to charges that coalition leaders underestimated the task
of rebuilding the war-torn country and created a more dangerous situation.
"Terrorism didn't exist in Iraq before," said French Foreign
Minister Dominique de Villepin, whose government was one of the most vocal
critics in the months leading up to the war. "Today, it is one of
the world's principal sources of world terrorism."
Reasons for going to war
In February 2003 Secretary of State Colin Powell made the case for war
with Iraq at a special presentation to the U.N. Security Council, the
United Nations' peacekeeping body. Powell told member nations that Iraq
was in violation of U.N. Resolution 1441, which was designed to disarm
Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.
Powell's presentation was the culmination of President Bush's case against
the Iraqi leader. President Bush argued that Saddam was a cruel dictator
who tortured and killed thousands of his own people and who had launched
chemical attacks on Iranians and ethnic Kurds. Saddam's presence in the
region, he argued, posed a risk to the world.
"The risk of doing nothing, the risk of hoping that Saddam Hussein
changes his mind and becomes a gentle soul, the risk that somehow, that
inaction will make the world safer is a risk I'm not willing to take for
the American people," Mr. Bush said at the time.
The United States
tried to pass another U.N. resolution authorizing force against Iraq,
but it was blocked by France, Germany and Russia, which wanted to try
to disarm Saddam peacefully.
So, on March 19, 2003, after giving Hussein multiple chances to step down,
President Bush ordered the invasion of Baghdad. Joining American troops
was a coalition of British and Spanish soldiers.
Active fighting lasted six weeks. During that time more than 100 U.S.
soldiers died and many more Iraqis. The Pentagon has refused to divulge
its estimates of how many Iraqi civilians died during the bombing, but
unofficial estimates from Human Rights Watch, an international human rights
organization, stand at over 1,000.
One of the key days of the war was April 9 when U.S. soldiers, surrounded
by hundreds of Iraqis, toppled a 40-foot statue of the former dictator,
an image seen around the world.
President Bush announced the end of major combat operations on May 1,
but warned that challenges lay ahead. Areas of Baghdad lay in ruins because
of the bombings, the country had no electricity and little running water,
oil fields were destroyed and no leadership existed.
"We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We are bringing order to parts
of that country that remain dangerous. We are pursuing and finding leaders
of the old regime, who will be held to account for their crimes,"
the president said.
Since the end of the major combat, there have been many successes in the
effort to rebuild Iraq.
The coalition has
restored many of the country's services including water and electricity,
according to U.S. administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer, and has reopened
schools and clinics and begun building an Iraqi police force.
U.S. officials have also formed the Iraqi Governing Council, a group of
Iraqi leaders who will oversee the creation of a new constitution and
democratically elected government.
And in December, American
soldiers captured Saddam Hussein hiding near his hometown of Tikrit.
But along with the successes have come major challenges. According to
the U.S. Department of Defense, 277 U.S. soldiers have been killed in
attacks on coalition forces since the war ended, and nearly 3,000 have
been wounded since it began.
Bombings -- including
one at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad -- have left hundreds of civilians
dead and have led to questions about the coalition's ability to provide
security for Iraqis.
Most controversially, the failure of U.S. inspectors to find weapons of
mass destruction has caused critics to question whether President Bush
misled the American public by purposely using faulty weapons intelligence
to justify going to war. A congressional committee has been formed to
investigate the charge.
President Bush's Democratic rival for president, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts,
also criticized the handling of the conflict in a statement released Friday.
The failure to find biological and chemical weapons in Iraq shows the
president "misled" Congress and the nation about the reason
for invading Iraq, Kerry said.
Administration officials are seeking to turn over leadership to the Iraqi
people by July 1. Elections have been scheduled for December.
According to Gen.
John Abizaid, head of military operations in Iraq, the United States will
stay in Iraq until Iraqi security forces are capable of defending themselves
against terrorist attacks. About 130,000 coalition troops remain in Iraq.
By Kristina Nwazota,
© 2004 MacNeil/Lehrer