Iraq Timeline: 2002-2003

Updated October 19, 2021 | Borgna Brunner
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Jan. 29, 2002

In President George W. Bush's state of the union speech, he identifies Iraq, along with Iran and North Korea, as an "axis of evil." He vows that the U.S. "will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

May 14, 2002

The UN Security Council revamps the sanctions against Iraq, now eleven years old, replacing them with "smart sanctions" meant to allow more civilian goods to enter the country while at the same time more effectively restricting military and dual-use equipment (military and civilian).

Jun. 2, 2002

President Bush publicly introduces the new defense doctrine of preemption in a speech at West Point. In some instances, the president asserts, the U.S. must strike first against another state to prevent a potential threat from growing into an actual one: "Our security will require all Americans…[to] be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives.

Sep. 12, 2002

President Bush addresses the UN, challenging the organization to swiftly enforce its own resolutions against Iraq. If not, Bush contends, the U.S. will have no choice but to act on its own against Iraq.

Oct. 11, 2002

Congress authorizes an attack on Iraq.

Nov. 8, 2002

The UN Security Council unanimously approves resolution 1441 imposing tough new arms inspections on Iraq and precise, unambiguous definitions of what constitutes a "material breach" of the resolution. Should Iraq violate the resolution, it faces "serious consequences," which the Security Council would then determine.

Nov. 18, 2002

UN weapons inspectors return to Iraq, for the first time in almost four years.

Dec. 7, 2002

Iraq submits a 12,000-page declaration on its chemical, biological and nuclear activities, claiming it has no banned weapons.

Dec. 21, 2002

President Bush approves the deployment of U.S. troops to the Gulf region. By March an estimated 200,000 troops will be stationed there. British and Australian troops will join them over the coming months.

Jan. 16, 2003

UN inspectors discover 11 undeclared empty chemical warheads in Iraq.

Jan. 27, 2003

The UN's formal report on Iraqi inspections is highly critical, though not damning, with chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix stating that "Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it."

Jan. 28, 2003

In his state of the union address, President Bush announces that he is ready to attack Iraq even without a UN mandate.

Feb. 14, 2003

In a February UN report, chief UN inspector Hans Blix indicated that slight progress had been made in Iraq's cooperation. Both pro- and anti-war nations felt the report supported their point of view.

Feb. 15, 2003

Massive peace demonstrations take place around the world.

Feb. 22, 2003

Hans Blix orders Iraq to destroy its Al Samoud 2 missiles by March 1. The UN inspectors have determined that the missiles have an illegal range limit. Iraq can have missiles that reach neighboring countries, but not ones capable of reaching Israel.

Feb. 24, 2003

The U.S., Britain, and Spain submit a proposed resolution to the UN Security Council that states that "Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it in Resolution 1441," and that it is now time to authorize use of military force against the country.

France, Germany, and Russia submit an informal counter-resolution to the UN Security Council that states that inspections should be intensified and extended to ensure that there is "a real chance to the peaceful settlement of this crisis," and that "the military option should only be a last resort."

Mar. 1, 2003

Iraq begins to destroy its Al Samoud missiles.

Feb. 24–
Mar. 14, 2003

The U.S. and Britain's intense lobbying efforts among the other UN Security Council members yield only four supporters (in addition to the U.S. and Britain, Spain and Bulgaria); nine votes (and no vetoes from the five permanent members) out of fifteen are required for the resolution's passage. The U.S. decides not to call for a vote on the resolution.

Mar. 17, 2003

All diplomatic efforts cease when President Bush delivers an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to leave the country within 48 hours or else face an attack.

Mar. 19, 2003

President Bush declares war on Iraq.

Mar. 20, 2003

The war against Iraq begins 5:30 AM Baghdad time (9:30 PM EST, March 19), when the U.S. launches Operation Iraqi Freedom. Called a "decapitation attack," the initial air strike of the war attempted to target Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi leaders in Baghdad.

The U.S. launches a second round of air strikes against Baghdad, and ground troops enter the country for the first time, crossing into southern Iraq from Kuwait. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claims that the initial phase of the war is mild compared to what it to come: "What will follow will not be a repeat of any other conflict. It will be of a force and a scope and a scale that has been beyond what we have seen before."

Mar. 21, 2003

The major phase of the war begins with heavy aerial attacks on Baghdad and other cities. The campaign, publicized in advance by the Pentagon as an overwhelming barrage meant to instill "shock and awe," is in actuality more restrained.

Mar. 24, 2003

Troops march within 60 miles of Baghdad. They encounter much stronger resistance from Iraqi soldiers and paramilitary fighters along the way, particularly in towns such as Nassiriya and Basra.

Mar. 26, 2003

About 1,000 paratroopers land in Kurdish-controlled Iraq to open a northern front.

Mar. 30, 2003

U.S. Marines and Army troops launch first attack on Iraq's Republican Guard, about 65 miles outside Baghdad. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld deflects criticism that the U.S. has not deployed enough Army ground troops in Iraq.

Apr. 2, 2003

Special operations forces rescue Pfc. Jessica Lynch from a hospital in Nasiriya. She was one of 12 members of the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company captured by Iraqi troops on March 23.

Apr. 5, 2003

U.S. tanks roll into the Iraqi capital and engage in firefights with Iraqi troops. Resistance weaker than anticipated. Heavy Iraqi casualties.

Apr. 7, 2003

British forces take control of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city.

Apr. 9, 2003

The fall of Baghdad: U.S. forces take control the city, but sporadic fighting continues throughout the capital.

Apr. 11, 2003

Kirkuk falls to Kurdish fighters.

Apr. 13, 2003

Marines rescue five U.S. soldiers captured by Iraqi troops on March 23 in Nasiriya, and two pilots who had been shot down on March 24 near Karbala.

Apr. 14, 2003

Major fighting in Iraq is declared over by the Pentagon, after U.S. forces take control of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's birthplace and the last city to exhibit strong Iraqi resistance. Saddam Hussein's whereabouts remain unknown.

Apr. 15, 2003

Gen. Jay Garner, appointed by the United States to run post-war Iraq until a new government is put in place, met with various Iraqi leaders to begin planning the new Iraqi federal government.

May 1, 2003

The U.S. declares an end to major combat operations.

May 12, 2003

A new civil administrator takes over in Iraq. Paul Bremer, a diplomat and former head of the counter-terrorism department at the State Department, replaces Jay Garner, who was seen as ineffective in stemming the continuing lawlessness and violence taking place throughout Iraq.

May 22, 2003

The UN Security Council approves a resolution lifting the economic sanctions against Iraq and supporting the U.S.-led administration in Iraq.

May 30, 2003

In separate speeches, U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell and British prime minister Tony Blair deny that intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was distorted or exaggerated to justify an attack on Iraq. Both administrations face mounting questions because no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have been found. Each had claimed that Iraq's WMD were an imminent threat to world security.

Jun. 15, 2003

Operation Desert Scorpion launched, a military campaign meant to defeat organized Iraqi resistance against American troops. U.S. and British troops face continued attacks; about one American soldier has been killed per day since the end of combat was declared.

Jul. 7, 2003

Bush administration concedes that evidence that Iraq was pursuing a nuclear weapons program by seeking to buy uranium from Africa, cited in January State of the Union address and elsewhere, was unsubstantiated and should not have been included in speech. Over summer Tony Blair faces even stronger criticism than his American counterpart concerning flawed intelligence.

Jul. 13, 2003

Iraq's interim governing council, composed of 25 Iraqis appointed by American and British officials, is inaugurated. The council has power to name ministers and will help draw up a new constitution for the country. The American administrator Paul Bremer, however, retains ultimate authority.

Jul. 16, 2003

Gen. John Abizaid, commander of allied forces in Iraq who replaced retiring general Tommy Franks on July 7, calls continued attacks on coalition troops a "guerrilla-type campaign" and says soldiers who will replace current troops may be deployed for year-long tours.

Jul. 17, 2003

U.S. combat deaths in Iraq reach 147, the same number of soldiers who died from hostile fire in the first Gulf War; 32 of those deaths occurred after May 1, the officially declared end of combat.

Jul. 22, 2003

Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein, die in a firefight in a Mosul palace.

Aug. 9, 2003

U.S. combat and noncombat casualties reach 255 at 100-day mark after declared end of combat on May 1; 43 British have died.

Aug. 19, 2003

Suicide bombing destroys UN headquarters in Baghdad, killing 24, including top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, and wounding more than 100.

Aug. 29, 2003

A bomb kills one of Iraq's most important Shi'ite leaders, Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, as well as about 80 others, and wounds 125.

Sep. 7, 2003

Continued violence and slow progress in Iraq lead to President Bush's announcement that $87 billion is needed to cover additional military and reconstruction costs.

Oct. 2, 2003

According to an interim report by David Kay, the lead investigator searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, no WMDs have been found as yet.

Oct. 5, 2003

White House reorganizes its reconstruction efforts in Iraq, placing National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in charge and diminishing the role of the Pentagon.

Oct. 16, 2003

The UN Security Council unanimously approves the U.S. and UK resolution on Iraq's reconstruction, which supports an international force in the country under U.S. authority. Several countries originally opposed the resolution unless Washington agreed to a faster timetable for transferring power to the Iraqis, but in the end voted for the resolution without requiring changes.

Oct. 23–24,

The Madrid Conference, an international donors' conference of 80 nations to raise funds for the reconstruction of Iraq, yielded $13 billion in addition to the $20 billion already pledged by the United States. This amount fell short of the overall target of raising $56 billion, the figure the World Bank and the UN estimated that Iraq needs over the next four years.

Oct. 27, 2003

Four coordinated suicide attacks in Baghdad kill 43 and wounded more than 200. Targets included the headquarters of the Red Crescent (Islamic Red Cross) and three police stations.

Nov. 2, 2003

In the single deadliest strike since the Iraq war began, guerrillas shoot down an American helicopter, killing 16 U.S. soldiers and injuring 21 others.

Other attacks over the course of the month make it the bloodiest since the war began: at least 75 U.S. soldiers die.

Nov. 14, 2003

The Bush Administration reverses policy and in a deal with the Iraqi Governing Council, agrees to transfer power to an interim government in early 2004.

Dec. 9, 2003

A directive issued by Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense, bars France, Germany, Canada, Mexico, China, and Russia from bidding on lucrative contracts for rebuilding Iraq, creating a diplomatic furor.

Dec. 13, 2003

Iraq's deposed leader Saddam Hussein is captured by American troops. The former dictator was found hiding in a hole near his hometown of Tikrit and surrendered without a fight.

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