Why Blair and Bush attacked Saddam Hussein

In this episode of IWM Stories, Chris Cooper explores the timeline of events that led from the 9/11 terror attacks to US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair invading Saddam Hussein's Iraq. From Saddam's use of chemical and biological weapons during the Iran-Iraq War to the First Gulf War in 1991 and from the 9/11 terror attacks to UN weapons inspections, the Iraq War has a long and complicated history that goes far beyond oil and weapons of mass destruction.

This is never-before-seen footage of British soldiers invading Iraq in 2003.

It was taken on the 24th of March and shows Royal Marine Commandos on the Al-Faw peninsula in the southeast of the country. Within a month they had completed the first part of their mission, capturing Basra while the Americans went north and took the capital of Baghdad. Next, they had to find Iraq's brutal dictator Saddam Hussein and disarm him of his weapons of mass destruction. There was one problem though, Saddam didn't have any.

Archive Clip of George Bush: "And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon"

So why were these soldiers looking for weapons of mass destruction?

Archive Clip of George Bush: "An axis of evil arming to threaten the peace of the world"

And why did the Iraq war happen in the first place?

Archive Clip of George Bush: "The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now"

Well, before we answer those questions and more a reminder to subscribe to the Imperial War Museums YouTube Channel for more videos just like this every two weeks.

Why did we go to war in Iraq? I mean if you drill down into it the big cause of the Iraq war really is 9/11.

The terror attacks on the 11th of September 2001 shook the world.

Archive Clip of George Bush: "Our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts."

Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked U.S passenger planes and flew them into both World Trade Centers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Almost 3 000 people were killed.

The idea that the greatest military and economic power in the world could be attacked to that degree on its own shores is unheard of and it really makes governments reassess the threat of international terrorism.

But the 9/11 terror attacks were committed by Al-Qaeda who mainly operated out of Afghanistan, while Iraq they had nothing to do with it. Things didn't add up so I put that question to Chris.

What the hell has it got to do with Iraq? Well, I think I think this is the point. In order for terrorist groups to attain that level of impact in their future attacks that what they might look to do is to employ the use of chemical attacks, biological attacks, nuclear. I mean, that is the threat they perceive. So George Bush in his State of the Union Address in January 2002 declares an

Archive Clip of George Bush: "Axis of evil arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred... The price of indifference would be catastrophic."

It wasn't that Iraq had a hand in 9/11, it was the fear that Iraq could have a hand in the next 9/11. Which would be even worse thanks to the use of weapons of mass destruction. The main source of those fears was Iraq's leader Saddam Hussein.

Saddam Hussein is Iraq's dictator. He rules through fear, absolutely he rules through fear and has a track record of using chemical and biological weapons against both his own population and he used them during the iran iraq war in the 1980s.

Saddam had even committed a genocide against the Kurdish people in 1988. Killing over 50,000 according to Human Rights Watch, in part with chemical weapons. However, things had started to change after the First Gulf War. In 1990, Iraq invaded the small, oil-rich nation of Kuwait before an international coalition led by George Bush's father responded. They pushed Saddam back into Iraq, imposed strict sanctions and introduced UN weapon inspectors who began disarming Iraq of its WMDs. Saddam was left in power, providing a useful counter to Iranian influence in the region. Successive U.S Presidents decided against removing him, reluctant to get bogged down in a long war, but that perception started to shift after the NATO invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

The war in Afghanistan looks like it's going really well. They're starting to hold elections, they're introducing democracy. The success of the initial invasion into Afghanistan leads to the idea that something similar could be could potentially be done in Iraq.

By this point President George Bush had already decided to take action against Iraq, he was convinced of the threat they posed. But the U.S didn't want to go to war alone, they needed allies. The natural choice being the United Kingdom across the Atlantic. 
British Prime Minister Tony Blair already had a strong personal relationship with Bush, telling him "I will be with you, whatever" in a letter from 2002. But there was one big obstacle to British involvement in Iraq.

They can't form a legal case for war in Iraq based on regime change and so the legal basis for war in Iraq for the UK eventually is to pursue any means necessary to ensure that Iraq is disarmed of weapons of mass destruction.

The UK's preferred means of doing that was through the United Nations, using sanctions and weapons inspectors to disarm Iraq peacefully if possible. In November of 2002, the UN passed Resolution 1441 giving Saddam one last chance to give up his weapons of mass destruction. The issue was he didn't have any. So why did Britain and the US believe that Saddam had WMDs?

This is a tricky area now. Throughout the 90s the UN weapons inspectors I think do a pretty good job of ensuring that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction disappear. He wants people to believe that he's running these programs and he's developing these weapons as it gives the impression he is a man of power.

Remember that Saddam ruled through fear and the idea that he had weapons of mass destruction was a major part of that. They not only helped suppress his internal enemies but also ensured that Iraq remained an important player in the region as a whole. However, Saddam's lack of transparency on that issue allowed nations to see whatever they wanted to see in his actions, with intelligence reports simply used to confirm pre-existing beliefs. Iraq had allowed inspectors back into the country under resolution 1441, but without being fully compliant. For the US that gave cause for war, but the UN Security Council still remained unconvinced.

There are two main camps. So on one side, you have Spain, Britain and United States who are working to build a coalition to support military action and on the other, you have France, Germany and Russia who are opposed to military action. I mean these negotiations going on right up until the invasion basically like 48 hours before.

What eventually tipped the scales was the weather.

If you try to invade Iraq in the summer it's going to be too hot. A campaign against Iraq needs to happen early on in the year. George Bush runs out of patience I think basically and issues a final ultimatum to Saddam Hussein on the 17th of March.

Archive Clip of George Bush: "Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict."

As you might expect Saddam and his sons refused. The U.S readied for war while in the UK the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly for the use of military force against Iraq. On the 20th of March, the invasion began with these Royal Marines some of the first to set foot on Iraqi soil. At first, the invasion was a huge success, with British troops taking Basra while the main force moved on to Baghdad, but the worst was yet to come.

The Iraq war is one of the most controversial wars since 9/11 unquestionably. The Iraq war has had a massive impact on how military interventions are perceived. I don't think anybody could necessarily have quite predicted just how catastrophic it would turn out to be.

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