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Remembering the Fall of Baghdad

Find out what happened to Baghdad after the United States led an illegal international coalition to invade Iraq on 20 March 2003.

What: The American conquest of Baghdad

 When: 3-14 April 2003

 Where: Baghdad, Iraq

What happened?

After the United States led an illegal international coalition to invade Iraq on 20 March 2003 under the pretext of destroying Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s fictional weapons of mass destruction stockpile, the main strategic target for the so-called “Coalition of the Willing” was the capital of Baghdad itself.

To sow discord in the Iraqi army’s command structure and to force the Iraqis to fight outside the city rather than within it, the coalition heavily bombed their rear areas in Baghdad itself. The Americans feared what would happen if the fighting degenerated into urban warfare, calculating that their losses would be very high. By heavily bombarding Baghdad itself, they thus forced the Iraqis to commit most of their forces outside the city limits where they were largely destroyed.

Though US forces had largely seized Baghdad by 9 April, sporadic fighting continued for the next couple of days and victory was not formally declared by the US military until 14 April.

The American bombing of Baghdad was so severe that hospitals in the capital were each receiving an average of 100 casualties per hour, mostly civilians. To this day, Baghdad’s infrastructure has yet to be fully rebuilt, and the city remains scarred by not only the US assault, but also the more than a decade of bombing that preceded the invasion in 2003.

What happened next?

The Americans expected to be able to capture Saddam Hussein and the leading members of the Ba’athist regime after the fall of the capital, but they failed to do this. Saddam fled to Al-Dour near his hometown of Tikrit in Iraq’s north, and was not captured until eight months later in December.

In the ensuing years under US occupation, Baghdad witnessed a continued state of violence as various resistance groups formed to fight back against the American invaders. However, political disputes and the entrance of terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda – who never existed in Iraq prior to the US invasion – into the fray meant that what was supposed to be a national resistance began to degenerate into sectarian strife.

The new Iraqi regime began to ghettoise Baghdad into Sunni and Shia districts, and turned a blind-eye to the activities of the Shia jihadist militias who committed a sectarian cleansing campaign of many of Baghdad’s districts by either killing Sunnis or threatening them with violence if they did not sell their homes to Shia buyers. The deadly ramifications and repercussions of this campaign has yet to be solved.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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