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timeline - fighting on two fronts

April '03 to June '04 marks the period when the U.S.-led coalition governed Iraq and began to engage the critical decisions on how to rebuild the country and bring democracy before turning sovereignty over to the Iraqi people. This timeline is drawn from FRONTLINE's research and reporting for "The Lost Year in Iraq."

April-August 2003:
The Fall of Baghdad & the Rise of an Insurgency

U.S. Events, Decisions, Power Struggles

On the Ground in Iraq

April 9


The End of Saddam

saddam statue with flag

Iraqis topple an iconic statue of Saddam Hussein in central Baghdad with help from U.S. soldiers. In hindsight, the event foreshadows what is to come: One of the Americans covers the statue's face with a U.S. flag, which is quickly replaced by an Iraqi one.

It had taken just three weeks after the U.S. invasion for Baghdad to fall.

"It took American soldiers to … whip up the celebration"

April 11


"Freedom is Untidy"

As soon as Baghdad falls, Iraqis begin looting on a grand scale and attacking government ministries. During this first postwar week, the looting verges on chaos. But less than two U.S. brigades are in isolated positions in the city of over 5 million. U.S. troops don't stop the looters.

As the world watches the scenes of looting across Iraq, Rumsfeld tries to downplay concerns, saying: "Freedom is untidy."

Observations & Analysis

April 16

A Surprise Announcement

tommy franks in iraq

Gen. Tommy Franks makes his first triumphant visit to Baghdad and tells his troops -- more than 110,000 -- to prepare for takeover by a new Iraqi government within 60 days and a U.S. troop withdrawal by September.

A division -- about 30,000 troops -- would be left to occupy Iraq.


April 21

The First Postwar Civil Administrator

garner looking pensive

Retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner arrives in Baghdad to head the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA). One of his first meetings is with Kurdish leaders to begin discussions about a transition to an inclusive interim Iraqi government. Washington officials, worried that Garner is "off the reservation" decide to make a change. Within hours of his arrival in Baghdad, Garner is informed that presidential envoy L. Paul Bremer III will soon replace him.

Garner's phone rings…


May 1

"Mission Accomplished"

Bush announces an end to major military combat. Onboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, the president stands in front of a banner reading "Mission Accomplished."

Looting escalates across Iraq

baghdad looters

May 6

Garner Replaced by Bremer

President Bush announces L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer III, a diplomat and protégé of Henry Kissinger, will head a new temporary administrative entity for Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority. Bremer was not viewed as an "Arabist," nor did he have much prior experience in nation-building -- two factors that seemed to be pluses for the administration. In a memo briefing top staff in the White House and in Iraq, Bremer writes: "It is desirable that my arrival in Iraq be marked by clear, public and decisive steps."

Observations & Analysis


May 12

Bremer Arrives, Suggests Shooting Looters

In a private meeting during his first day in Baghdad, Bremer suggests the possibility of shooting looters to quell lawlessness. This leaks to reporters, outraging Iraqis and the U.S. military.

Bremer & others on the looting


May 16

CPA Replaces ORHA; "De-Baathification" Announced

baath party protests

The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) absorbs duties previously held by ORHA and issues CPA Order No. 1, which calls for the "de-Baathification" of Iraq -- dismantling Saddam's Baath Party and removing all Baath Party members from positions of authority. Bremer brushes off a strong warning from the CIA station chief in Baghdad that the action will drive up to 50,000 people underground.

What Bremer expected


May 23

The CPA Disbands the Iraqi Army

The CPA issues CPA Order No. 2, disbanding the Iraqi army in favor of building a completely new force. The action takes many coalition troops by surprise. They have to scratch plans they had for reconstruction that involved getting help from an Iraqi military.

Debating Order No. 2


June 1

Garner Leaves

After spending just over a month struggling to get a handle on Iraq's situation and to define his position in relation to Bremer, Garner heads back to Washington. Later that month, he reports to Rumsfeld that the mission's success is seriously in jeopardy.

Garner & others on his tenure


June 14

Sanchez Appointed Head of Ground Forces

general sanchez

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez is appointed to lead Coalition Joint Task Force 7 (CJTF-7), a newly created agency to oversee ground forces in Iraq.

Was Sanchez a good choice?


July 7

Gen. Tommy Franks Retires

In a further sign of turmoil and dissent within the U.S. military, Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the force that invaded Iraq, retires. Frustrated by ongoing clashes with Rumsfeld over the secretary's vision of creating a "faster" and "lighter" army, Franks turns down an offer to become Army chief of staff in June and announces his retirement. Gen. John Abizaid replaces Franks.



July 13


The Iraqi Governing Council

governing council

This 25-seat organization, created temporarily by the CPA to fill Iraq's power vacuum, meets for the first time. Its membership, handpicked by CPA, reflects all Iraqi ethnic groups and includes several women. White House favorite Ahmad Chalabi gets a seat and is given control over de-Baathification efforts. The council's limited powers and U.S. control over its membership foster distrust among many Iraqis.

July 22


Uday and Qusay Hussein Killed

Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay are killed in a U.S.-led raid after an Iraqi informant leads soldiers to the brothers' hideout in Mosul. The news is welcomed as a sign of progress toward stabilizing Iraq.

Aug. 1


Memo to Saddam's Secret Police Sheds Light on Iraqi Resistance

The chief of the CIA's Baghdad station shows Bremer a document recovered from a trashed office of Saddam's secret police. The memo instructs them to organize sabotage, looting, sniper attacks and ambushes across Iraq to thwart coalition efforts. It helps make sense of the growing insurgency.

Aug. 7


Jordanian Embassy Attacked

A large car bomb explodes outside the embassy in Baghdad, killing 17 people and injuring dozens. It's the first terrorist-style car bombing in Iraq.

Aug. 11


Riots in Basra

After continuing gasoline shortages and blackouts, riots erupt across this southern Iraqi city that had been relatively quiet

Aug. 18

Bremer Refused Authorization to Arrest Moqtada al-Sadr

In July, the influential Shiite cleric begins preaching against the U.S. occupation. On Aug. 18, Bremer receives word that Rumsfeld has given orders not to arrest al-Sadr until further notice, for fear it would incite greater violence. The next day, concerned that al-Sadr's supporters, known as the Mehdi army, will further derail reconstruction efforts, Bremer requests Washington's support to bring al-Sadr under control. Rumsfeld refuses. The Mehdi army continues gaining strength as a key force in the insurgency.

Bremer on the decision


Aug. 19


Truck Bomb Destroys U.N. Headquarters

baghdad U.N. burning

A truck bomb explodes outside the hotel housing U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing the U.N. special envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and at least 21 others. The increasing scale of the insurgents' attacks puts Iraqis on edge.

A major turning point

Aug. 20


Washington's worries grow over the summer about how long U.S. troops would remain in Iraq; Rumsfeld tells Bremer the Pentagon is growing impatient. But Bremer has no idea to whom he should hand over sovereignty. On Aug. 20, he urges the Governing Council to act more quickly so as to give Iraqis evidence of progress in rebuilding the country. But he has no confidence in them.

Why Bremer resists


Aug. 29


Attack on Mosque in Najaf

A car bomb explodes outside a mosque in the Shiite holy city of Najaf as crowds leave midday prayers. The blast kills more than 100 people, including Shiite spiritual leader Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim.

By the end of this summer, any debate about whether there is an insurgency is settled.

The war for Iraq's future begins


September 2003-February 2004:
Bremer's Plans for Iraq Blocked; a Coalition Crackdown Fizzles; the Insurgency Crystallizes

U.S. Events, Decisions, Power Struggles

On the Ground in Iraq


Rumsfeld Visits Iraq

rumsfeld and bremer in iraq

He's there to assess possible approaches for reducing U.S. troop numbers and makes clear that the Pentagon is anxious for more intelligence to help quell the violence. He also continues to press for a transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis.

Bremer's recollection

Coalition Forces Round Up Suspected Insurgents

Massive sweeps start to arrest suspected insurgents. Available prisons, including Abu Ghraib, are quickly filled.

Analysis of the sweeps

Sept. 8

Bremer Publishes Seven-Step Plan

Without the White House or Pentagon's knowledge, Bremer publishes an op-ed in The Washington Post -- "Iraq's Path to Sovereignty" -- in which he describes a multi-step, multi-year process toward the ultimate goal of creating a constitution and holding elections.

Later that month, Bremer visits Washington and continues to lobby for his slow and steady approach to moving Iraq toward sovereignty. But with an eye on the 2004 election, the administration remains committed to handing Iraq over to Iraqis as soon as possible.

Analysis of Bremer's plan


October - December


Abu Ghraib

abu ghraib photo

During the fall of 2003, some U.S. troops guarding prisoners at Abu Ghraib begin photographing prisoner torture and abuse.


Rice Given Control Over the CPA

Bremer's multi-year plan for turning over sovereignty is a big political problem for the president. The White House decides to rein him in. National Security Council Adviser Condoleezza Rice sends Robert Blackwill to advise Bremer and assert White House influence over the CPA.

The back story

Moqtada al-Sadr Gains Strength

His followers continue to grow as the cleric spreads his message of resistance and violence against U.S. occupation.

Oct. 10


Mehdi Army Attacks U.S. Patrol

Two U.S. soldiers are killed when a band of Mehdi army militiamen attacks U.S. a patrol in Sadr City. It is the first in a string of escalating attacks by Moqtada al-Sadr's followers. The following day, thousands of Shiites in Sadr City take to the streets to protest the U.S.-led occupation.

Oct. 26


Attack on al-Rashid Hotel

A rocket attack on the heavily fortified al-Rashid Hotel kills 16 people, including a colonel working for the CPA. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is among those who escape unharmed.

The effect on the CPA

Oct. 27


Attack on Red Cross Headquarters

Within a 45-minute window, suicide bombers set off four car bombs across Baghdad -- including three at local police stations and one at the headquarters of the Red Cross -- killing 35 and demonstrating the insurgents' growing coordination and sophistication.

Nov. 2


U.S. Helicopter Shot Down

Insurgents shoot down a Chinook helicopter over Fallujah, killing 15 U.S. soldiers. It is the single deadliest strike on coalition troops since the war began.

Nov. 15

Deadline for Sovereignty Transfer Announced

The CPA announces an agreement with the Iraqi Governing Council to hand over sovereignty to an Iraqi government by June 30, 2004. The agreement is built around a seven-step process, beginning with the drafting of an interim constitution by March 1, 2004. The following day Bremer meets with staff and reshapes the CPA's mission to meet the shortened timeline.

Why the decision is made


Dec. 6


Insurgents Attack Bremer's Convoy

Bremer survives an assassination attempt on his convoy. The CPA does not publicly confirm the incident until two weeks later.

Dec. 13


Saddam Hussein Captured

Saddam Hussein is found hiding outside his hometown of Tikrit, in a dirt hole. The capture is highly publicized, but does not deter the growing violence across Iraq.



Intercepted Letter From Zarqawi

The letter is from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and details his plans for the insurgency. His goals include fomenting violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, targeting the emerging Iraqi police and military, and killing Kurds -- any measure to derail progress toward a democratic Iraq.

Jan. 18


Attack at the Green Zone Gates

The day after U.S. casualties reach 500, a suicide truck bomb explodes at the gates of CPA headquarters, killing at least 20 people and injuring 100.

The Effect on the CPA

Jan. 19


New Iraqi Protest

In the largest protest since the CPA took control of Iraq, 100,000 Shiites march in support of Governing Council member Ayatollah al-Sistani's call for direct elections instead of the CPA-facilitated plan for appointed interim leaders.

Feb. 1


Major Attacks Across Erbil

Part of a continuing wave of large-scale attacks on soldiers and civilians, suicide bombings in the Kurdish city of Erbil kill roughly 100 Iraqis.

Feb. 10


Police Station Bombed

Fifty people are killed by a car bomb at a police recruiting station in Iskandariya, a city 25 miles south of Baghdad.

Feb. 11


Army Recruitment Center Attacked

At least 40 people die in a car bombing outside an Iraqi army recruitment center in Baghdad.


March-June 2004:
Iraqis Push for Sovereignty; Insurgency Rages; The Handover of Sovereignty

U.S. Events, Decisions, Power Struggles

On the Ground in Iraq

March 2


Karbala Mosque Attack

On a holy day for Shi'a Muslims, suicide attacks in Karbala kill over 85 people. It's a sign of the growing ethnic and religious strife.

March 8


Interim Constitution Passed

Overcoming Shiite objections that the new plan gives Kurds too much power, Iraq's Governing Council signs an interim constitution to govern Iraq after the transfer of sovereignty in June, and until the adoption of a permanent constitution.

The CPA's "legacy"

March 26


Tensions With al-Sadr Escalate

The CPA labels the daily newspaper Al-Hawza a mouthpiece of Moqtada al-Sadr and orders it closed for 60 days on charges of inciting violence. Bremer also orders the arrest of a top al-Sadr lieutenant, Mustafa Yaqoubi; the April 3 arrest stokes rebellion, and Mehdi militiamen overrun CPA offices in Kut and Nasiriya.

March 31


Four U.S. Contractors Killed In Fallujah

american contractor corpses on bridge

Four American contractors are killed; their bodies are burned, dragged through the streets, and strung up on a bridge.

April 4


Attacks Continue

In one day, Shiite insurgents launch attacks in the cities of Kufa, Karbala, Najaf, al-Kut and Sadr City.

April 6


Coalition Launches Fallujah Offensive

While battling al-Sadr's forces in the south, the U.S.-led coalition resolves to regain control of the "Sunni Triangle" area. Roughly 2,000 Marines advance on Fallujah, while 12 Marines are killed in a firefight in Ramadi to the west. The Fallujah advance is almost immediately in trouble: Iraqi troops assigned to back up U.S. forces abandon their posts. Sunni Governing Council members become enraged at civilian casualties. With the stability of the Governing Council at stake, Bremer approaches Gen. Abizaid and Lt. Gen. Sanchez, and on April 9, they agree to call off the attack on Fallujah.

Why the Fallujah advance is called off

April 23

Bremer Reverses Position on De-Baathification

In a speech titled "Turning the Page," Bremer concedes that enforcement of the de-Baathification order has not been fair -- particularly with regard to the academic community -- and suggests a more flexible policy going forward. Bremer's decision upsets Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the de-Baathification efforts and a longtime critic of the Baath Party.

Bremer on de-Baathification mistakes


April 27

Abu Ghraib Scandal Erupts

60 Minutes II broadcasts photographs of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. Three days later, The New Yorker publishes photos documenting the abuse. The ensuing scandal presents another obstacle for the CPA and the U.S. military in Iraq.

Bad timing for the U.S.


April 28

Allawi Named Interim Prime Minister

With U.S. approval, Ayad Allawi is nominated to be prime minister of the interim government.


April 30


Creation of "Fallujah Brigade" Offends Iraqis

Without informing Bremer or Gen. Sanchez, U.S. Marines agree to let a former commander in Saddam's Republican Guard recruit Iraqis to form the "Fallujah Brigade" in an attempt to restore some order to the city. The former Republican Guard member is replaced within days, but the move upsets many Iraqis who see it as a regression toward the old regime.

How weapons landed in insurgents' hands

May 7


American Contractor Beheaded

American contractor Nick Berg is beheaded by militants who say his death is retaliation for the treatment of Iraqi prisoners.

May 17


Governing Council President Assassinated

Governing Council President Izzadin Salim and six others die in a suicide car bomb attack just outside the Green Zone.

May 18

Bremer Requests More Troops

In a hand-delivered private message, Bremer requests two additional divisions of troops (roughly 40,000 soldiers) from Rumsfeld to help counter the steady stream of violent attacks. He receives no response.

Bremer on needing more troops


May 28


U.S. Reaches Truce With al-Sadr

Moqtada al-Sadr reaches an agreement with U.S. forces. Both sides pledge to withdraw their fighters from Najaf, ending two months of intense combat. However the cease-fire does not hold.

On the same day, the Governing Council unanimously approves U.S. pick Ayad Allawi as interim prime minister.

June 1


Governing Council Chooses al-Yawer as Interim President

The Governing Council chooses Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni, to serve as Iraq's interim president, a largely symbolic role. It then dissolves to make way for a 33-person cabinet that will take its place when the sovereignty is transferred to Iraqis later in the month.

June 28

CPA Transfers Sovereignty; Bremer Leaves Iraq

bremer leaving iraq

Two days before the publicized deadline -- a move suggested by President Bush to thwart possible violence -- the CPA transfers authority to Iraq's interim government. Bremer leaves Baghdad immediately on a secret plane in order to avoid possible attacks.

Bremer's departure

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posted oct. 17, 2006

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