New American Roles (detail from a Gulf War photograph)

War in Iraq, 2003

In 2003, America’s role as sole superpower was once again tested—in Iraq, the heart of the Middle East. Called “Operation Iraqi Freedom” an invasion was launched in March 2003. The United States, Great Britain, and other coalition forces attacked and overthrew Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime in Iraq.

In the war against the Iraqi regime, U.S. and coalition forces simultaneously employed air strikes of unprecedented precision and ground attacks that were fewer, faster, and more flexible than those of the 1991 Gulf War. Troops deployed through Kuwait raced 300 miles to Baghdad, while Special Forces operatives were inserted deep into northern and western Iraq. When Turkey refused to allow a major coalition offensive to cross its border, small numbers of U.S. Special Operations Forces were inserted into northern Iraq, where they mobilized peshmerga, local Kurdish militia units. A long-oppressed ethnic minority, Kurds were willing allies in the fight against Hussein.

The Defense Department controlled media coverage of the war. In response to criticism that journalists had been excluded from on-the-scene coverage of the Gulf War, U.S. military officials embedded selected journalists with fighting units. These embedded journalists broadcast live reports to a global audience.

Major combat operations took less than two months, but coalition units remained entangled in a controversial effort to establish an Iraqi democracy. U.S. forces suffered 139 combat-related deaths before “major combat operations” in Iraq ended on 1 May 2003. As American and Iraqi authorities struggled to establish an interim government, U.S. and coalition forces faced civil unrest and an anti-occupation insurgency. Hundreds more U.S. troops were killed and wounded.

Iraqis in Baghdad, assisted by U.S. Marines, topple a statue of Saddam Hussein, 2003
Peshmerga fighters
Twenty-seven-year-old U.S. Army Ranger captain Russell Rippetoe (left), killed on April 3, 2003, was the first casualty of the Iraqi war buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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