U. S. Congress and U. S. President

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Following the 1991 Gulf War as part of the ceasefire agreement, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 mandated that Iraqi chemical, biological, nuclear, and long range missile programs be halted and all such weapons destroyed under United Nations Special Commission control. The UN weapons inspectors inside Iraq were able to verify the destruction of a large amount of WMD-material, but substantial issues remained unresolved in 1998 when the inspectors left Iraq due to then current UNSCOM head Richard Butler's belief that U.S. and UK military action was imminent. Shortly after the inspectors withdrew, the U.S. and UK launched a four-day bombing campaign in Iraq. Also, during this period the U.S. Congress and U.S. President Bill Clinton issued a resolution calling for regime change in Iraq.

In addition to the UN inspections, the U.S. and UK (along with France until 1998) engaged in a low-level conflict with Iraq by enforcing non-UN mandated northern and southern Iraqi no-fly zones. These were known as Operation Provide Comfort and Operation Provide Comfort II then followed by Operation Northern Watch in Iraqi Kurdistan in the north and Operation Southern Watch in the south, and were seen by the Iraqi government as an infringement of Iraq's sovereignty. These overflights intensified one year before the Iraq war began when the U.S. initiated Operation Southern Focus in order to disrupt the military command structure in Iraq before the invasion.

The CIA's Special Activities Division (SAD) teams were the first U.S. forces to enter Iraq in July 2002, prior to the U.S. Invasion. Once on the ground, they prepared for the subsequent arrival of U.S. Army Special Forces to organize the Kurdish Peshmerga. This joint team (called the Northern Iraq Liaison Element (NILE)) combined to defeat Ansar al-Islam, an ally of Al Qaeda, in the North East corner of Iraq. This battle was for control of a territory that was occupied by Ansar al-Islam and was executed prior to the invasion. It was carried out by Paramilitary Operations Officers from SAD and the Army's 10th Special Forces Group. This battle was a significant defeat of a key terrorist organization and the uncovering of a chemical weapons facility at Sargat. Sargat was the only facility of its type discovered in the Iraq war.

SAD teams also conducted missions behind enemy lines to identify leadership targets. These missions led to the initial strikes against Saddam Hussein and his Generals. Although the strike against Saddam was unsuccessful in killing him, it was successful in effectively ending his ability to command and control his forces. Other strikes against his Generals were successful and significantly degraded the command's ability to react to, and maneuver against the U.S. led invasion force. SAD operations officers were also successful in convincing key Iraqi Army officers into surrendering their units once the fighting started.

Turkey refused to allow the U.S. Army entry into Northern Iraq. Therefore, joint SAD and Army Special forces teams and the Kurdish Pershmerga were the entire Northern force against Saddam. They managed to keep Saddam's Army in place rather than moving the northern army to contest the U.S. led coalition force coming from the south. The efforts of the Kurds, SAD and 10th Special Forces Group with the Kurds likely saved the lives of many US and coalition forces during and after the invasion. As described by Mike Tucker and Charles Faddis in their book entitled, "Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq", four of these CIA officers were awarded the Intelligence Star for their heroic actions.
n October 2002 former U.S. President Bill Clinton warned about possible dangers of pre-emptive military action against Iraq. Speaking in the UK on a Labour Party conference he said: "As a preemptive action today, however well-justified, may come back with unwelcome consequences in the future....I don't care how precise your bombs and your weapons are, when you set them off, innocent people will die."

Anti-War protest in London, 2002.

On 20 January 2003, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin declared "we believe that military intervention would be the worst solution".

Meanwhile anti-war groups across the world organised public protests. According to French academic Dominique Reynié, between 3 January and 12 April 2003, 36 million people across the globe took part in almost 3,000 protests against war in Iraq, with demonstrations on 15 February 2003, being the largest and most prolific.

In February 2003, the U.S. Army's top general, Eric Shinseki, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it would take "several hundred thousand soldiers" to secure Iraq. Two days later, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the post-war troop commitment would be less than the number of troops required to win the war, and that "the idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces is far from the mark." Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Shineski's estimate was "way off the mark," because other countries would take part in an occupying force.

In March 2003, Hans Blix reported that "No evidence of proscribed activities have so far been found" in Iraq, saying that progress was made in inspections which would continue. He estimated the time remaining for disarmament being verified through inspections to be "months". But the U.S. government announced that "diplomacy has failed", and that it would proceed with a coalition of allied countries—named the "coalition of the willing"—to rid Iraq of its alleged WMD. The U.S. government abruptly advised UN weapons inspectors to leave Baghdad immediately.

There were serious legal questions surrounding the launching of the war against Iraq and the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war in general. On 16 September 2004, Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, said of the invasion, "I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view, from the Charter point of view, it was illegal."

In November 2008 Lord Bingham, the former British Law Lord, described the war a serious violation of international law, and accused Britain and the United States of acting like a "world vigilante". He also criticized the post-invasion record of Britain as "an occupying power in Iraq". Regarding the treatment of Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib, Bingham said: "Particularly disturbing to proponents of the rule of law is the cynical lack of concern for international legality among some top officials in the Bush administration." In July 2010, Deputy Prime Minister of the UK Nick Clegg, in an official PMQs session in Parliament, condemned the invasion of Iraq as illegal. Theorist Francis Fukuyama has argued that "the Iraq war and the close association it created between military invasion and democracy promotion tarnished the latter".

2011: Conclusion

U.S. and Kuwaiti troops closing the gate between Kuwait and Iraq on 18 December 2011.

Main article: Withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq

Muqtada al-Sadr returned to Iraq in the holy city of Najaf to lead the Sadrist movement after being in exile since 2007.

On 15 January 2011, three U.S. troops were killed in Iraq. One of the troops was killed on a military operation in central Iraq, while the other two troops were deliberately shot by one or two Iraqi soldiers during a training exercise.

On 6 June, five U.S. troops were killed in an apparent rocket attack on Camp Victory, located near Baghdad International Airport. A sixth soldier, who was wounded in the attack, died 10 days later of his wounds.

On 29 June, three U.S. troops were killed in a rocket attack on a U.S. base located near the border with Iran. It was speculated that the militant group responsible for the attack was the same one which attacked Camp Victory just over three weeks before. With the three deaths, June 2011, became the bloodiest month in Iraq for the U.S. military since June 2009, with 15 U.S. soldiers killed, only one of them outside combat.

In September, Iraq signed a contract to buy 18 Lockheed Martin F‑16 warplanes, becoming the 26th nation to operate the F‑16. Because of windfall profits from oil, the Iraqi government is planning to double this originally planned 18, to 36 F-16s. Iraq is relying on the U.S. military for air support as it rebuilds its forces and battles a stubborn Islamist insurgency.

With the collapse of the discussions about extending the stay of any U.S. troops beyond 2011, where they would not be granted any immunity from the Iraqi government, on 21 October 2011, President Obama announced at a White House press conference that all remaining U.S. troops and trainers would leave Iraq by the end of the year as previously scheduled, bringing the U.S. mission in Iraq to an end. The last American soldier to die in Iraq before the withdrawal was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on 14 November.

In November 2011, the U.S. Senate voted down a resolution to formally end the war by bringing its authorization by Congress to an end.

The last U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq on 18 December. The next day, Iraqi officials issued an arrest warrant for the Sunni Vice-President Tareq Al-Hashemi. He has been accused of involvement in assassinations and fled to the Kurdish part of Iraq.

Post U.S. withdrawal

Main article: Iraqi insurgency (post U.S. withdrawal)

Iraqi insurgency surged in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal. The terror campaigns have since been engaged by Iraqi, primarily radical Sunni, insurgent groups against the central government and the warfare between various factions within Iraq. The events of post U.S. withdrawal violence succeeded the previous insurgency in Iraq (prior to 18 December 2011), but have showed different patterns, raising concerns that the surging violence might slide into another civil war. Some 1,000 people were killed across Iraq within the first two months since U.S. withdrawal.

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