Some of the most intense fighting during the Second Persian Gulf War occurred during the first few months following the March 20, 2003, invasion.
Despite the lack of UN support for an invasion, the US still managed to garner a multitude of allies. Coalition forces consisted of 150,000 US combat troops, 45,000 from the British, 2000 Australians, and over 50,000 of the local Kurdish peshmergas militia. Even Denmark and Poland contributed to aquatic combat forces. Ethiopia, Eritrea, Hungary, Italy, and Portugal allowed American forces the use of their bases, and the US secured access to airspace in Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Turkey.
In all, the US effort secured the backing of 35 nations. Still, circumstances were murky, and coalition forces did not know what to expect of the extent of resistance.
Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 20, 2003, with a preemptive strike aimed at Iraqi leaders in Baghdad. The US initiated its “shock and awe” program, which included almost continual bombing of major cities. From Kuwait, coalition troops began to march towards Baghdad. They encountered ugly opposition along the way, especially in Nasiriya and Basra.
The Third Division under Major General Blount proceeded towards its destination, decimating Hussein’s Republican Guard along the way. This was quickly followed up by its capture of the Baghdad International Airport. Well ahead of schedule, American troops proceeded with an armored push to the capital.
Urban warfare heavily disfavors the aggressors and armor-users, which meant that everyone was surprised when Blount’s Abrams tanks and Bradley carriers plowed through fierce but uncoordinated resistance to Saddam’s front lawn. Baghdad was out of the fight by April 9, 2003.
Iraq’s second largest city of Basra was also taken by the British 2 days prior, and the Kurds quickly took Kirkuk. The last dagger came with the US’ capture of Tikrit, the remaining bastion of Iraqi opposition. Fighting petered out, and by May 1, 2003, America declared the end of major combat in Iraq.
The occupation of Iraq required some 135,000 US forces to remain. They are still actively involved in seeking out former Iraqi leaders and putting down terrorism. In late July 2003, a 6-hour firefight broke out in Mosul. 20 missiles from American gunships obliterated the house hosting the resistance, and in the aftermath Uday and Qusay Hussein (the ace of clubs and the ace of hearts on the military’s famous card deck of top officials in the Hussein regime) were found dead in the rubble.
Meanwhile, the occupation forces continued to experience a plethora of retaliation. Nearly a month after the killing of the sons, a suicide bombing annihilated the UN headquarters in Baghdad, killing two dozen people along with special representative de Mello. Another attack cost the Red Cross a dozen workers, and the UN and Red Cross staff were forced to withdraw many of their people. Later, November 2003 saw the second-bloodiest month since the end of the war, with 110 deaths among the US-lead coalition.
Finally, the coalition had some good news. In December 2003, Saddam Hussein himself was found, adumbrated in a hole 15 kilometers outside of Tikrit. Six hundred soldiers from the Raider Brigade approached the hideaway on a tip, and a cordon and search operation unearthed the former Iraqi leader. Saddam surrendered without resistance and was whisked away to an undisclosed location. He would later stand trial and receive the death penalty for his crimes.