|OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM
THE FALL OF BAGHDAD
Three weeks into the invasion, U.S. forces moved into Baghdad. Initial plans
were for armored units to surround the city and gradually move in, forcing Iraqi
armor and ground units to cluster into a central pocket in the city, and then
attack with air and artillery forces. This plan soon became unnecessary, as an
initial engagement of armor units south of the city saw most of the Republican
Guard's armor assets destroyed and much of the southern outskirts of the city
occupied. On 5 April a "Thunder Run" of US armored vehicles was launched to
test remaining Iraqi defenses, with 29 tanks and 14 Bradley Armored Fighting
Vehicles rushing from a staging base to the Baghdad airport. They met heavy
resistance, including many suicidal attacks, but were successful in reaching the
airport. Two days later another thunder run was launched into the Palaces of
Saddam Hussein, where they established a base. Within hours of the palace
seizure and television coverage of this spreading through Iraq, US forces
ordered Iraqi forces within Baghdad to surrender, or the city would face a
full-scale assault. Iraqi government officials had either disappeared or had
conceded defeat, and on April 9, 2003, Baghdad was formally occupied by US
forces and the power of Saddam Hussein was declared ended. Much of
Baghdad remained unsecured however, and fighting continued within the city
and its outskirts well into the period of occupation. Saddam had vanished, and
his whereabouts were unknown. Many Iraqis celebrated the downfall of Saddam
by vandalizing the many portraits and statues of him together with other pieces
of his personality cult. One widely publicized event was the dramatic toppling of
a large statue of Saddam in central Baghdad by a US M88 tank retriever, while
a crowd of Iraqis cheered the Marines on. During this incident, the Marines
briefly draped an American flag over the statue's face. The flag was replaced
with an Iraqi flag and the demolition continued.
The fall of Baghdad saw the outbreak of regional violence throughout the
country, as Iraqi tribes and cities began to fight each other over old grudges.
The Iraqi cities of Al-Kut and Nasiriyah declared war upon each other
immediately following the fall of Baghdad in order to establish dominance in the
new country, and Coalition forces quickly found themselves embroiled in a
potential civil-war. U.S. forces ordered the cities to cease hostilities immediately,
and explained that Baghdad would remain the capital of the new Iraqi
government. Nasiriyah responded favorably and quickly backed down, however
Al-Kut placed snipers on the main roadways into town, with orders that Coalition
forces were not to enter the city. After several minor skirmishes, the snipers
were removed, but tensions and violence between regional, city, tribal, and
familial groups continued into the occupation period.
General Tommy Franks assumed control of Iraq as the supreme commander of
occupation forces. Shortly after the sudden collapse of the defense of
Baghdad, rumors were circulating in Iraq and elsewhere that there had been a
deal struck (a "safqua") wherein the US had bribed key members of the Iraqi
military elite and/or the Ba'ath party itself to stand down. In May 2003, General
Franks retired, and confirmed in an interview with Defense Week that the U.S.
had paid Iraqi military leaders to defect. The extent of the defections and their
effect on the war are unclear.
Coalition troops promptly began searching for the key members of Saddam
Hussein's government. These individuals were identified by a variety of means,
most famously through sets of most-wanted Iraqi playing cards.
On 22 July 2003 during a raid by the U.S. 101st Airborne Division and men from
Task Force 20, Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay, and one of his
grandsons were killed.
Saddam Hussein was captured on December 13, 2003 by the U.S. Army's 4th
Infantry Division and members of Task Force 121 during Operation Red Dawn.