The United States' invasion of Iraq has begun.
As commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces, President George W. Bush has initiated the attack on the Middle Eastern nation to overthrow the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. A coalition of U.S., British and Australian forces are undertaking the action, and the Bush administration claims that at least 30 nations have expressed their support. However, the action is not supported by the United Nations.
The Bush administration claims Hussein has failed to fully disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, in defiance of United Nations resolutions. Bush has said Iraq poses a danger to the world and that nothing short of a full regime change will diffuse the potential threat.
The administration sought the approval of the U.N. Security Council in using force to remove Hussein. That proposal met with resistance, most notably from France and Russia, who hold veto power over any such U.N. resolution. With the support of the U.K., the United States then issued its own ultimatum to Hussein on Monday, giving the Iraqi leader 48 hours to relinquish power. Hussein refused.
The United States' relationship with Hussein's Iraqi regime is long and complex. From 1980-1988, the U.S. helped to arm and finance Saddam's military during Iraq's long and bloody war with neighboring Iran.
Leading an international coalition, the U.S. took military action against Iraq in January 1991 after Iraqi troops occupied southeastern neighbor Kuwait, an oil-rich monarchist kingdom and U.S. ally who had long suffered border disputes with Iraq. Known as "Operation: Desert Storm," the action followed United Nations-imposed sanctions, still in place today, that keep Iraq from importing or exporting anything not approved by the U.N. Security Council.
In late February 1991, after Kuwait had been liberated, Hussein accepted a cease-fire agreement and then proceeded to quell domestic factions who attempted to overthrow his regime in the war's aftermath. Then-President George Bush Sr. — father of the current president — opted not to pursue the dismantling of Saddam's government.
By late 1992 the United States, Great Britain and France had established "no-fly" zones over a 19,000-square-mile area of northern Iraq and over part of the southern area of the country.
In the fall of 1997, Hussein's government threw out American members of the U.N. weapons inspection teams, then allowed them back a month later. In January of the following year, Iraq stopped cooperating with inspections altogether, alleging that the teams were composed of too many British and American inspectors. Cooperation resumed in late February, only to again cease in October. Inspections resumed in November, until U.N. inspectors left Iraq a month later.
The U.S. bombed Iraq's capitol city of Baghdad for four days in December 1998. Over the next two years, Iraq continuously rejected new U.N. weapons inspection proposals and began to defy the no-fly zones. President George W. Bush bombed Iraqi air defense locations in February 2001.
Iraq continues to protest the U.N. sanctions, while inspectors accuse Hussein's government of not cooperating with inspections (see "Arms Inspectors Call Iraq Uncooperative, Ask For More Time"). A humanitarian panel set up by the U.N. Security Council reported in 1999 that since the sanctions were put in place, Iraq has suffered deterioration in healthcare and education and has seen increases in infant mortality and malnutrition, despite the U.N.'s "oil for food" program that slightly loosened the sanctions beginning in 1996.
In a speech last year, Bush called Iraq part of an "axis of evil" alongside North Korea and Iran. In February, original Gulf War veteran and current U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the U.N. that Iraq is continuing to hide and develop weapons of mass destruction and that Hussein threatens the security of the world (see "Colin Powell Accuses Saddam Hussein Of Continuing To Harbor, Develop Weapons").