Essay About Iraq War 2003 Mission

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Iraq War, also called Second Persian Gulf War, (2003–11), conflict in Iraq that consisted of two phases. The first of these was a brief, conventionally fought war in March–April 2003, in which a combined force of troops from the United States and Great Britain (with smaller contingents from several other countries) invaded Iraq and rapidly defeated Iraqi military and paramilitary forces. It was followed by a longer second phase in which a U.S.-led occupation of Iraq was opposed by an insurgency. After violence began to decline in 2007, the United States gradually reduced its military presence in Iraq, formally completing its withdrawal in December 2011.

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Prelude to war

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 ended in Iraq’s defeat by a U.S.-led coalition in the Persian Gulf War (1990–91). However, the Iraqi branch of the Baʿth Party, headed by Ṣaddām Ḥussein, managed to retain power by harshly suppressing uprisings of the country’s minority Kurds and its majority Shīʿite Arabs. To stem the exodus of Kurds from Iraq, the allies established a “safe haven” in northern Iraq’s predominantly Kurdish regions, and allied warplanes patrolled “no-fly” zones in northern and southern Iraq that were off-limits to Iraqi aircraft. Moreover, to restrain future Iraqi aggression, the United Nations (UN) implemented economic sanctions against Iraq in order to, among other things, hinder the progress of its most lethal arms programs, including those for the development of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. (Seeweapon of mass destruction.) UN inspections during the mid-1990s uncovered a variety of proscribed weapons and prohibited technology throughout Iraq. That country’s continued flouting of the UN weapons ban and its repeated interference with the inspections frustrated the international community and led U.S. Pres. Bill Clinton in 1998 to order the bombing of several Iraqi military installations (code-named Operation Desert Fox). After the bombing, however, Iraq refused to allow inspectors to reenter the country, and during the next several years the economic sanctions slowly began to erode as neighbouring countries sought to reopen trade with Iraq.

In 2002 the new U.S. president, George W. Bush, argued that the vulnerability of the United States following the September 11 attacks of 2001, combined with Iraq’s alleged continued possession and manufacture of weapons of mass destruction (an accusation that was later proved erroneous) and its support for terrorist groups—which, according to the Bush administration, included al-Qaeda, the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks—made disarming Iraq a renewed priority. UN Security Council Resolution 1441, passed on November 8, 2002, demanded that Iraq readmit inspectors and that it comply with all previous resolutions. Iraq appeared to comply with the resolution, but in early 2003 President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared that Iraq was actually continuing to hinder UN inspections and that it still retained proscribed weapons. Other world leaders, such as French Pres. Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, citing what they believed to be increased Iraqi cooperation, sought to extend inspections and give Iraq more time to comply with them. However, on March 17, seeking no further UN resolutions and deeming further diplomatic efforts by the Security Council futile, Bush declared an end to diplomacy and issued an ultimatum to Ṣaddām, giving the Iraqi president 48 hours to leave Iraq. The leaders of France, Germany, Russia, and other countries objected to this buildup toward war.

The 2003 conflict

When Ṣaddām refused to leave Iraq, U.S. and allied forces launched an attack on the morning of March 20; it began when U.S. aircraft dropped several precision-guided bombs on a bunker complex in which the Iraqi president was believed to be meeting with senior staff. This was followed by a series of air strikes directed against government and military installations, and within days U.S. forces had invaded Iraq from Kuwait in the south (U.S. Special Forces had previously been deployed to Kurdish-controlled areas in the north). Despite fears that Iraqi forces would engage in a scorched-earth policy—destroying bridges and dams and setting fire to Iraq’s southern oil wells—little damage was done by retreating Iraqi forces; in fact, large numbers of Iraqi troops simply chose not to resist the advance of coalition forces. In southern Iraq the greatest resistance to U.S. forces as they advanced northward was from irregular groups of Baʿth Party supporters, known as Ṣaddām’s Fedayeen. British forces—which had deployed around the southern city of Al-Baṣrah—faced similar resistance from paramilitary and irregular fighters.

In central Iraq units of the Republican Guard—a heavily armed paramilitary group connected with the ruling party—were deployed to defend the capital of Baghdad. As U.S. Army and Marine forces advanced northwestward up the Tigris-Euphrates river valley, they bypassed many populated areas where Fedayeen resistance was strongest and were slowed only on March 25 when inclement weather and an extended supply line briefly forced them to halt their advance within 60 miles (95 km) of Baghdad. During the pause, U.S. aircraft inflicted heavy damage on Republican Guard units around the capital. U.S. forces resumed their advance within a week, and on April 4 they took control of Baghdad’s international airport. Iraqi resistance, though at times vigorous, was highly disorganized, and over the next several days army and Marine Corps units staged raids into the heart of the city. On April 9 resistance in Baghdad collapsed, and U.S. soldiers took control of the city.

On that same day Al-Baṣrah was finally secured by British forces, which had entered the city several days earlier. In the north, however, plans to open up another major front had been frustrated when the Turkish government refused to allow mechanized and armoured U.S. Army units to pass through Turkey to deploy in northern Iraq. Regardless, a regiment of American paratroopers did drop into the area, and U.S. Special Forces soldiers joined with Kurdish peshmerga fighters to seize the northern cities of Kirkuk on April 10 and Mosul on April 11. Ṣaddām’s hometown of Tikrīt, the last major stronghold of the regime, fell with little resistance on April 13. Isolated groups of regime loyalists continued to fight on subsequent days, but the U.S. president declared an end to major combat on May 1. Iraqi leaders fled into hiding and were the object of an intense search by U.S. forces. Ṣaddām Ḥussein was captured on December 13, 2003, and was turned over to Iraqi authorities in June 2004 to stand trial for various crimes; he was subsequently convicted of crimes against humanity and was executed on December 30, 2006.

Occupation and continued warfare

Following the collapse of the Baʿthist regime, Iraq’s major cities erupted in a wave of looting that was directed mostly at government offices and other public institutions, and there were severe outbreaks of violence—both common criminal violence and acts of reprisal against the former ruling clique. Restoring law and order was one of the most arduous tasks for the occupying forces, one that was exacerbated by continued attacks against occupying troops that soon developed into full-scale guerrilla warfare; increasingly, the conflict came to be identified as a civil war, although the Bush administration generally avoided using that term and instead preferred the label “sectarian violence.” Coalition casualties had been light in the initial 2003 combat, with about 150 deaths by May 1. However, deaths of U.S. troops soared thereafter, reaching some 1,000 by the time of the U.S. presidential election in November 2004 and surpassing 3,000 in early 2007; in addition, several hundred soldiers from other coalition countries have been killed. The number of Iraqis who died during the conflict is uncertain. One estimate made in late 2006 put the total at more than 650,000 between the U.S.-led invasion and October 2006, but many other reported estimates put the figures for the same period at about 40,000 to 50,000.

After 35 years of Baʿthist rule that included three major wars and a dozen years of economic sanctions, the economy was in shambles and only slowly began to recover. Moreover, the country remained saddled with a ponderous debt that vastly exceeded its annual gross domestic product, and oil production—the country’s single greatest source of revenue—was badly hobbled. The continuing guerrilla assaults on occupying forces and leaders of the new Iraqi government in the years after the war only compounded the difficulty of rebuilding Iraq.

In the Shīʿite regions of southern Iraq, many of the local religious leaders (ayatollahs) who had fled Ṣaddām’s regime returned to the country, and Shīʿites from throughout the world were able to resume the pilgrimage to the holy cities of Al-Najaf and Karbalāʾ that had been banned under Ṣaddām. Throughout the country Iraqis began the painful task of seeking loved ones who had fallen victim to the former regime; mass graves, the result of numerous government pogroms over the years, yielded thousands of victims. The sectarian violence that engulfed the country caused enormous chaos, with brutal killings by rival Shīʿite and Sunni militias. One such Shīʿite militia group, the Mahdi Army, formed by cleric Muqtadā al-Ṣadr in the summer of 2003, was particularly deadly in its battle against Sunnis and U.S. and Iraqi forces and was considered a major destabilizing force in the country.

A controversial war

Unlike the common consent reached in the Persian Gulf War, no broad coalition was assembled to remove Ṣaddām and his Baʿth Party from power. Although some European leaders voiced their conditional support for the war and none regretted the end of the violent Baʿthist regime, public opinion in Europe and the Middle East was overwhelmingly against the war. Many in the Middle East saw it as a new brand of anti-Arab and anti-Islamic imperialism, and most Arab leaders decried the occupation of a fellow Arab country by foreign troops. Reaction to the war was mixed in the United States. Though several antiwar protests occurred in American cities in the lead-up to the invasion, many opinion polls showed considerable support for military action against Iraq before and during the war. Surprisingly, American opinions on the war sometimes crossed traditional party lines and doctrinal affiliation, with many to the right of the avowedly conservative Bush seeing the war as an act of reckless internationalism and some to the political left—appalled by the Baʿthist regime’s brutal human rights violations and its consistent aggression—giving grudging support to military action.

As violence continued and casualties mounted, however, more Americans (including some who had initially supported the war) began to criticize the Bush administration for what they perceived to be the mishandling of the occupation of Iraq. The appearance in the news of photographs of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad—a facility notorious for brutality under the Baʿth regime—further damaged world opinion of the United States. In addition, a U.S. bipartisan commission formed to investigate the September 11 attacks reported in July 2004 that there was no evidence of a “collaborative operational relationship” between the Baʿthist government and al-Qaeda—a direct contradiction to one of the U.S. government’s main justifications for the war.

Bush’s prewar claims, the failure of U.S. intelligence services to correctly gauge Iraq’s weapon-making capacity, and the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction—the Bush administration’s primary rationale for going to war—became major political debating points. The war was a central issue in the 2004 U.S. presidential election, which Bush only narrowly won. Opposition to the war continued to increase over the next several years; soon only a dwindling minority of Americans believed that the initial decision to go to war in 2003 was the right one, and an even smaller number still supported the administration’s handling of the situation in Iraq.

In late 2006 the Iraq Study Group, an independent bipartisan panel cochaired by former U.S. secretary of state James A. Baker III and former U.S. congressman Lee Hamilton, issued a report that found the situation in Iraq to be “grave and deteriorating.” The report advocated regionwide diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict and called for the U.S. military role to evolve into one that provided diminishing support for an Iraqi government that the report challenged to assume more responsibility for the country’s security.

The lead-up to and conduct of the war were also the subjects of controversy in Britain and the focus of parliamentary inquiries. The so-called Hutton Inquiry of 2003–04 cleared the Blair government of accusations of having “sexed up” intelligence related to the imminent threat posed by Iraq. However, the Butler Review of 2004 was critical of the prewar role of the British intelligence service, especially of unreliable information that was used as a pretext for British involvement. An even more comprehensive inquiry that was launched in late 2009 had by early 2010 come to include allegations that cuts to the military budget prior to the war had left British troops in Iraq vulnerable, setting the stage for testimony by Blair and his successor as prime minister, Gordon Brown.

The surge

Prior to the release of the Iraq Study Group report, there had been considerable debate within the administration over the path forward in Iraq. Although by December 2006 President Bush had indicated his inclination to increase the number of troops in Iraq, questions—in particular, the exact number of troops to be added—remained unsettled. Finally, in January 2007, President Bush announced a controversial plan to temporarily increase the number of U.S. troops there by more than 20,000, an effort that became known as the surge. Despite heavy casualties initially—2007 was the deadliest year for U.S. forces since 2004—the drop in violence that occurred as the year drew on was a source of encouragement, and a number of the additional troops were subsequently withdrawn. The ultimate success of the surge itself remained a source of continuing debate, however, as the declining levels of violence observed in 2007 were attributed not solely to the surge itself but to a confluence of factors. Among these were a change in tactics that brought U.S. forces already on the ground more in line with classic counterinsurgency strategy; the Sunni Awakening, a movement in which Sunni tribesmen who had formerly fought against U.S. troops eventually realigned themselves to help counter other insurgents, particularly those affiliated with al-Qaeda; and the voluntary peace observed by Ṣadr and his forces beginning in August of that year.

In November 2008 the Iraqi parliament approved a U.S.-Iraqi agreement that redefined the legal framework for U.S. military activity in Iraq and set a timetable for the final withdrawal of U.S. forces. Under the agreement, which was signed during the final months of the Bush administration after nearly a year of negotiation, U.S. troops were scheduled to leave the cities by mid-2009, and withdrawal from the country was set to be completed by December 31, 2011. In February 2009 newly elected U.S. Pres. Barack Obama announced that U.S. combat forces would be withdrawn from Iraq by August 31, 2010, with the remaining troops due to pull out by the end of 2011. On August 18, 2010—two weeks ahead of schedule—the last combat brigade withdrew from Iraq; 50,000 U.S. soldiers remained in Iraq to act as a transitional force.

In contrast to publicly known U.S. military casualty figures (tracked by the Pentagon to more than 4,300 in October 2009), for a number of years no comprehensive data on Iraqi mortality was made available by the Iraqi government. In October 2009 the Iraqi government released its estimate of violent deaths for the 2004–08 period (statistics for the earliest portion of the war were far more difficult to obtain, due to the lack of a functioning government at that time). According to the government estimate, more than 85,000 Iraqis—a figure that included both civilians and military personnel—had died violently in the four-year period.

In October 2010 the whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks published nearly 400,000 secret U.S. military documents from the Iraq War online under the title “Iraq War Log,” following the release of a similar cache of documents related to the Afghanistan War in July 2010. WikiLeaks made the documents available to several major news outlets, including The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, The Guardian, and Al-Jazeera ahead of the publication date, stipulating that the material had to remain under embargo until the online release. The documents, mostly raw tactical and intelligence reports generated by field units in Iraq between 2004 and 2009, did not radically change the public understanding of the war, but they did reveal detailed information about its day-to-day conduct. They indicated that U.S. forces kept more detailed counts of Iraqi civilian casualties than previously acknowledged and that these counts indicated higher rates of civilian casualties than the military’s public statements, that private military contractors were often involved in incidents of excessive force, that Iran provided extensive direct military aid to Shīʿite militias participating in Iraq’s sectarian conflict, and that U.S. forces ignored the widespread use of torture by Iraqi security forces. U.S. and Iraqi officials condemned the publication of the documents, saying that the release would set back security efforts and endanger the lives of military personnel and Iraqis who cooperated with the military.

In July 2011, U.S. military officials announced that Iraq and the United States had begun negotiations to keep several thousand U.S. soldiers in Iraq past December 31, 2011, the date for withdrawal set in negotiations in 2008. However, a possible extension of the U.S. presence in Iraq remained unpopular with the Iraq public and with several Iraqi political factions. Negotiations failed when the two sides were unable to reach an agreement over the continuation for U.S. troops of legal immunity from Iraqi law. In October, President Obama announced that the remaining 39,000 soldiers would leave the country at the end of 2011. The U.S. military formally declared the end of its mission in Iraq in a ceremony in Baghdad on December 15, as the final U.S. troops prepared to withdraw from the country.

Why Did the United States Invade Iraq in 2003?

by Tor G. Jakobsen, NTNU


“The game is over”

These were the words of Mohammed al Douri, Iraq’s U.N. ambassador, in April 2003. When asked what he meant by this comment, he responded: “the war”. After three weeks of fighting, he admitted that the Republic of Iraq did not, for the time being, did not even exist.

In the morning hours of March, 2003, the U.S. and its allies initiated the invasion ofIraq. On April 9,U.S. forces formally occupied Baghdad, and on December 13 the same year, Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi dictator was captured while hiding in a cellar in the outskirts of Tikrit.

After the first Gulf War in 1991 Iraq was obliged by the U.N. to get rid of all its biological and toxic weapons. This Security Council Resolution also demanded the restoration of Kuwait’s independence and the implementation of sanctions against Iraq. The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) performed inspections in Iraq to make sure that the conditions of the peace agreement that followed the first Gulf War were carried out. The weapons inspectors were thrown out of Iraqin December of 1998, which lead to Operation Desert Fox, a three-day bombing campaign on Iraqi targets.

The mission was to strike military and security targets in Iraq that contributed to the country’s ability to produce, store, maintain and deliver weapons of mass destruction. The disagreement concerned the U.N. inspectors’ access to various ‘sensitive sites’ and presidential palaces. The weapons inspectors were not let back into Iraq until November 2002, after the U.N. Security Council had passed its resolution 1441.


US Intentions

After the first Gulf War both the George H.W. Bush and the Clinton administration hoped that the combination of economic sanctions, military containment and the no-flight zones in northern and southern Iraq would result in a military coup or a palace revolution by members of Saddam’s own Baath regime. This was not U.N. policy, however, but Washington’s own unilateral effort to change the regime inBaghdad.

During the first Bush and Clinton administrations, the main strategy was to support a coup or a palace revolution, and not to undertake any active American involvement to remove the Baath regime. After the 1991 Gulf War, President George H. W. Bush signed a presidential finding authorizing the CIA to topple Saddam. A 1998 law passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton authorized up to $97 million in military assistance to Iraqi opposition forces ‘to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein’ and ‘promote the emergence of a democratic government’. There was a considerable change inU.S. policy toward Iraqwhen George W. Bush took office in January 2001. A group of former democrats, who represented a more expansionist foreign policy than the traditional realist line of the Republican Party, gained a foothold in the party as early as in 1994.

They represented a line where national measures and freedom of action were the backbone of American foreign policy. Using organizations like the U.N. was only of interest when the U.S. was unable to solve a problem on its own, or when Washington was guaranteed support for its own policy. To be sure, there existed a significant degree of antagonism between this group and the old, more traditional realist viewpoint of foreign policy within the Republican Party. Yet, the expansionist congregation within the Republican camp gained the upper hand over the traditional realists in the wake of September 11, 2001.

In October 2001 the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, which marked the beginning of its Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). One year later the Congress and the Senate passed a law authorising the use of armed force against Iraq. This resolution empowered the President to declare war without obtaining U.N. Security Council authorization. Thus, by October 2002 the U.S. spoke with one voice in matters of foreign policy. The expansionist forces had now definitely won the tug-of-war with the realist forces of the Bush administration.

From this point on the President was in full charge of the Iraq situation, of course with the assistance of his State Department, the Pentagon, the CIA and his advisors at the White House. However, this seeming unilateralism did not imply that Washington would refrain from trying to obtain acceptance from the U.N. for its own foreign policy as exemplified by the passing of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 on November 8, 2002. In this document the Security Council recognised ‘the threat that Iraq’s non-compliance with Council resolutions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles poses to international peace and security’, and Iraq was warned that ‘it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations’.

By the end of November the U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, told the U.N. Security Council that Iraq had not fully accounted for its stocks of chemical and biological weapons and had not fully accepted its obligation to disarm under 1441.

When Colin Powel on February 5, 2003 presented evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction (henceforth abbreviated WMD) inIraqfor the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. had already deployed thousands of soldiers to the Gulf region. As early as in January, 2003, U.S. Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, had signed deployment orders for 62,000 U.S. troops to the region, in addition to the 43,000 already in place.

President Bush delivered an ultimatum on March 17, demanding that Saddam Hussein and two of his sons leave Iraq within 48 hours. On March 20, coalition forces attacked Iraqin Operation Iraqi Freedom.


Saddam, a Rational Actor?

A basic assumption in game theory is that the players are rational actors. Considering the outcome of the conflict – the U.S. invadedIraq, and the reign of Saddam Hussein ended – this assumption can be considered somewhat problematic in the Iraqi case. The dictator himself was captured on December 13, hiding in a cellar south of Tikrit, and was later executed.

The assumption of rational behaviour means that each player has a consistent set of rankings (values or payoffs) over all logically possible outcomes, and that he or she settles for the strategy that best serves these interests. Importantly, however, the concept of rationality does not imply that all the players share a common value system. It merely means that each player pursues his or her own value system consistently.

To understand Saddam Hussein’s behaviour we must also understand his goals. According to realist theory, the key interest of a state in the anarchic system is security. Only if survival is assured can states safely seek such other goals as tranquillity, profit and power. The first concern of states is not to maximize power but to maintain their positions in the system. Following the realists, the first objective of Iraq’s foreign policy would then be to remain a major power in the Middle East.

We can thus assume that Saddam Hussein wanted Iraq to be the most dominant force in the region. This assumption is affirmed by a study of the inner workings and behaviour of Saddam Hussein’s Regime, commissioned by the U.S. Joint Forces Command. It seems like the Iraqi state’s behaviour to a large extent was determined by the decisions made by a single man. According to a CIA report released in September 2004, Saddam Hussein so dominated the Iraqi regime that its strategic intent was his alone.

After the first Gulf War the Security Council implemented United Nations resolution 687 which, in addition to being a cease-fire agreement, was meant to restore ‘international peace and security’ in the region. One of the main elements of this resolution was Paragraph 8, which stated that Iraq should unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless under international supervision, of all weapons of mass destruction, and their appurtenant infrastructure and research and development programmes, as well as all ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometres.

The record made clear that Saddam Hussein both possessed WMD and used them against both external enemies (Iran) and his own citizens. After the first Gulf War his regime now faced a dilemma. The resolution provided theUnited Statesand its allies with authority to use force inIraq. The United Nations resolution 687 was partly a repetition of its resolution 678 which authorised member states ‘to use all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660 and all subsequent relevant resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area.’ This meant that if it was proven that Iraq had WMD, Saddam would risk a new western intervention.

On the other hand, if it was made clear that Saddam had no chemical or biological weapons, then he would lose one of his key instruments of inflicting fear both among his own population and Iraq’s neighbours. This could diminish Iraq’s position as a major force in the region. Saddam’s rational choice would then be to create uncertainty or ambiguity as to whether or not he actually had these weapons. Without proof of Iraq having WMD, it seemed unlikely that the West would intervene, and without proof of Iraq not having WMD, it would keep insurgents andIraq’s neighbours at bay.

Therefore it would seem rational for Saddam Hussein to pursue the choice of ambiguity, as illustrated in Figure 1. This line of tactics is in compliance with what is known as signalling in game theory, i.e. revealing, concealing and eliciting information about one’s intentions and capabilities. The general principle is that you want to release your information selectively.


Incomplete Information

The strategic situation in March 2003 ended with Iraqstanding firm and the U.S. and its allies carrying out their threat of attacking. We can draw a parallel to the previous war in the Gulf. Many ‘experts’ commenting on the Persian Gulf conflict in late 1990 predicted that Saddam Hussein would back down ‘because he is rational,’ thereby possibly failing to recognise that Saddam’s value system was different from the one held by most Western governments and by Western experts. To sufficiently account for the outbreak of war, we must revisit U.N. resolution 1441 and include the aspect of incomplete information when modelling the outbreak of conflict. In particular, two aspects of the information dimension are relevant:

First, as illustrated by the figure above, Saddam Hussein had incentives to show ambiguity concerning the question whether or not he possessed WMD. Of course, this ambiguity would putIraq’s path of choice in conflict with the foreign policy of post-9/11USA. The U.S. could not accept uncertainty on this matter. There is also another way in which Saddam’s seemingly irrational behaviour could be explained.

Deterrence theory is based upon the assumption that potential opponents are rational. If the costs and/or risks of choosing war appear unacceptably high, the opponent will reject this option, and deterrence holds. But this logic cannot be expected to work against an irrational opponent, who might opt for war even if losses are likely to outweigh gains. With the presumption of irrationality on its side, a weaker player can intimidate a stronger player. A state can actually profit from portraying itself as mad, because other states will then tend to abstain from intervening in its matters.

Furthermore, in the event of a confrontation, irrationality can compensate in military-power deficiencies. Being perceived as irrational can actually be advantageous. Iraqcould possibly be trying to make the U.S. and its surrounding countries believe that it was both capable and willing to use WMD if attacked. If convinced that Saddam was not bluffing, the U.S. would then back down. It is perfectly possible that both these factors can help explain Iraqi behaviour. Ambiguity, it seems, was Iraq’s most expedient path to preserving its position in the region. If Saddam’s goal was to scare the surroundings from interfering with his policies, being perceived as a madman was not, ex ante, necessarily negative.

Second, Iraq underestimated Washington’s willingness and capabilities to go to war. To be efficacious a threat must have three characteristics. First of all, the threat must be relevant; that is, the target must have some freedom of action so as to make it possible to avoid the execution of the threat. One can be tempted to call the U.S. strategy an unconditional commitment rather than a threat, i.e. an intention to take a particular course of action regardless of what the other side chooses to do.

Yet one could also look at it as a conditional commitment that became unconditional only after the point of no return. After theUnited States had shipped thousands of military personnel to the region, they clearly signalled that they were prepared to engage in combat operations. This was also necessary to re-establish credibility with allies and potential anti-Saddam forces in the region. Nothing else but making unmistakable preparations for a massive military invasion would send such a signal.

This we can name the U.S. point of no return. Second, the threat needs to be sufficiently severe, so that the target prefers to comply rather than face the consequences. And third, the threat must be credible. In other words, the target must be lead to believe that the threat will be carried out if compliance is not forthcoming. As a rule, the threatener must show that he will act, not that he may act, if the threat fails.

At the beginning of the conflict the threat may have been perceived as sufficiently severe, but not as being relevant or credible. Saddam Hussein knew that the U.S. wanted him ousted from power, which was made clear in the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and signed into law by then U.S. President Bill Clinton. Yet the relevance of the threat was far from obvious, sinceIraq may have presumed that the real goal of theU.S. government was to remove Saddam from power, and that the implementation of U.N. resolution 1441 was in the main a suitable excuse for pursuingWashington’s real aim.

There is, however, reason to believe that U.S. credibility had been weakened. Granted, economic sanctions had been implemented, and U.S. and British military enforced no-fly zones over northern and southernIraq. But Saddam Hussein and his regime had not been challenged in any serious manner, despite violating the U.N. resolutions. Based on the precedence established during the 12 years since the end of the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein could have been given the false impression that the U.S. was unwilling to confront him militarily.

This may have led him to believe that his ‘cat-and-mouse’ game with the U.N. weapons inspectors was less hazardous for his regime than it actually was. According to Tariq Azis, the former Deputy Prime Minister ofIraq, Saddam Hussein had been very confident that theUnited Stateswould not dare to attack; if it did, it would be defeated. ‘Judging from his private statements, the single most important element in his strategic calculus was the faith thatFranceandRussiawould prevent theUnited Statesfrom invadingIraq. Tariq Aziz revealed that his confidence was firmly rooted in the nexus between the economic interests of France and Russia and the strategic goals of Saddam.’


A Window of Opportunity

When the House and the Senate passed the Iraq Liberation Act, it was clear what the U.S. intentions were in the case of Saddam. Bill Clinton made it Washington’s policy to get rid of this dictator. But even if individual actors or even groups and organizations inside the U.S. wanted this line of policy followed up by hard action, resorting to military confrontation depended on the structures and opportunities the system would allow.

When Bill Clinton was president, it would be very difficult to gather support for a war against Iraq, both abroad and in the U.S. Even though the world could be described as unipolar, and even though this gives the U.S. freedom of action in its foreign policy, engaging in war still requires some sort of acquiescence from its allies, so as not to hurt U.S. interests in the long run. Therefore, even if Bill Clinton wanted to invade, he did not have a window of opportunity to do so.

The 9/11 attacks opened up this window of opportunity for the new president, George W. Bush, even if the Iraqi dictator presumably did not comprehend this new U.S. leeway.  There had of course been strife within the U.S. governmental apparatus, but after President Bush received a carte blanche from the Congress to go to war, the administration gathered around a single course of action.

Also, the U.S. had a history of not following through their policy to remove Saddam Hussein from power. In addition to the potential threatIraqposed to the U.S., President Bush had to take into consideration the threat against U.S. allies in the region.



The 2003 invasion of Iraq resulted in the arrest of Saddam Hussein and the removal of his regime. Why did the Iraqi dictator choose a path of actions that would ultimately lead to his removal form power?

In this game there were two principal actors: Iraq and the United States. Even though other countries played their roles in the conflict, our focus has been on these two states and their moves in the game. George W. Bush, who had been given leeway by the Congress to make decisions regardingIraq, led the U.S. The President, together with his Departments, intelligence service, and advisors, represented the U.S. side of the game table.Iraq, on the other hand, was an authoritarian state. According to the CIA, Saddam Hussein had dictatorial dominance over the Iraqi Regime, so his influence on Iraqi decision-making was significantly larger than George W. Bush’s similar influence over policy-making inWashington.

The official U.S. policy was to remove Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. After September 11th, U.S. focus was first and foremost to secure the physical well -being of the American people. SinceIraq was believed to possess WMD, the removal of these became the top priority for the U.S. government. By and large, theUnited   States was operating with two simultaneous goals: the elimination of both the (alleged) WMD and the Iraqi Regime.

Saddam Hussein’s goals can be summarized as follows. According to realist theory the survival ofIraqas a power in theMiddle Eastwas of utmost importance. This entailed securing the regime and handling regional threats. But Saddam Hussein also wanted to rise to the status of a modern Saladin, which could be achieved by successfully standing his ground against the ‘crusader states’. A confrontation with the U.S.could be described as a double-edged sword. If the U.S.was ‘hard line,’ Saddam risked being ousted from power by following his policy of showing WMD-ambiguity. For the Iraqi leader, however, there were real dividends to be gained by letting his enemies believe he possessed WMD. And if the U.S.was a mere ‘paper tiger’ Saddam could achieve becoming the undisputed leading figure of the Arab world by not giving in to the crusaders.

The important point here is that Saddam did not know for sure what type of opposition he was facing. The preceding 12 years of U.S. policy had given him the impression that he was facing American doves. But after September 11th the U.S. foreign policy had in fact changed from being soft to becoming hard line. In particular, there are two possibilities as to why Saddam Hussein chose to stand firm and not abide by U.S. demands. First, he might have thought that the U.S. was soft, that they would give in to Franco-Russian pressure and therefore refrain from going to war. Second, we should not disregard the possibility that the potential reward of standing his ground was perceived as so great by Saddam that he was willing to risk facing a hard line U.S.


Further reading:

Jakobsen, Tor Georg & Jo Jakobsen (2009) “The Game: A Rational Actor Approach to the US-led Invasion of Iraq, 2003” Strategic Analysis, 33(5) 664–674.


Tags:Middle East, rational actor, TGJ, USA, war


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