Profile: The Iraq War

The Site Of Zarqawi's Death In Hibhib
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Saddam Hussein led a brutal dictatorship of Iraq from 1979 to 2003. In 1990, he invaded and occupied the nation of Kuwait for six months until being expelled by an international coalition. For the next several years Hussein showed varying degrees of contempt for the international terms agreed to at the end of the war, namely a "no-fly zone" over much of the country, international inspections of suspected arms sites, and sanctions. In 2003, an American-led coalition invaded Iraq and overthrew the Hussein government.

Building the Coalition:

President Bush put forward a number of rationales for invading Iraq. These included: violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions, atrocities committed by Hussein against his people, and the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) which posed an immediate threat to the U.S. and the world. The U.S. claimed to have intelligence which proved the existence of the WMD and asked the U.N. Security Council to authorize an attack. The council did not. Instead, the U.S. and the United Kingdom enlisted 29 other countries in a "coalition of the willing" to support and carry out the invasion launched in March 2003.

Post-Invasion Troubles:

Although the initial phase of the war went as planned (the Iraqi government fell in a matter of days), the occupation and the rebuilding has proven quite difficult. The United Nations held elections leading to a new constitution and government. But violent efforts by insurgents has led the country to civil war, destabilized the new government, made Iraq a hotbed for terrorist recruitment, and dramatically raised the cost of the war. No substantial stockpiles of WMD were found in Iraq, which damaged the credibility of the U.S., tarnished the reputation of American leaders, and undermined the rationale for the war.

Divisions Within Iraq:

Understanding the various groups and loyalties inside Iraq is difficult. Religious fault lines between Sunni and Shiite Muslims are explored here. Although religion is a powerful force in the Iraq conflict, secular influences, including Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party, must also be considered to better understand Iraq. Iraq's ethnic and tribal divisions are displayed in this map. About Guide to Terrorism Issues Amy Zalman breaks down the armies, militias and groups fighting in Iraq. And the BBC offers another guide to the armed groups operating inside Iraq.

Cost of The Iraq War:

More than 3,600 American troops have been killed in the Iraq War and over 26,000 wounded. Nearly 300 troops from other allied forces have been killed. Sources say more than 50,000 Iraqi insurgents have been killed in the war and estimates of Iraqi civilians dead range from 50,000 to 600,000. The United States has spent over $600 billion on the war and may ultimately spend a trillion or more dollars. Deborah White, the About Guide to U.S. Liberal Politics, maintains an updated list of these statistics and more. The National Priorities Project set up this online counter to track the moment-by-moment cost of the war.

Foreign Policy Implications:

The war in Iraq and its fallout have been at the center of U.S. foreign policy since the overt march to war began in 2002. The war and surrounding issues (like Iran) occupy the attention of nearly all those in leadership at the White House, State Department, and Pentagon. And the war has fueled anti-American sentiment around the world, making global diplomacy all the more difficult. Our relations with almost every country in the world are in some form colored by the war.

Foreign Policy "Political Casualties":

In the United States (and among leading allies) the steep cost and on-going nature of the Iraq War have caused considerable damage to top political leaders and political movements. These include former Secretary of State Colin Powell, President George Bush, Senator John McCain, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and others. See more about the foreign policy "political casualties" of the Iraq War.

Paths Forward for the Iraq War:

President Bush and his team seem determined to continue the occupation of Iraq. They hope to bring enough stability to the nation that Iraqi security forces can maintain control and allow the new government to gain strength and legitimacy. Others believe this is a nearly impossible task. And still others believe this future is plausible but cannot unfold until after American forces leave. Managing the American departure is addressed in a report from the bipartisan "Iraq Study Group" and in the plans of several presidential candidates. See more on potential paths forward for the Iraq War.