The launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom to 'Mission Accomplished'

A statue of Saddam Hussein is pulled down in  central Baghdad in April 9, 2003.
A US soldier watches as a statue of Saddam Hussein is pulled down in Baghdad in April 9, 2003. Photo: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

A look back at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom to US President George Bush's famous declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in 2003.

The invasion of Iraq began on the 20th March after US-led forces launched their military operation to remove Iraq's President Saddam Hussein .

Here is a timeline of the start of the conflict :

  • 17 March: President Bush issues a final ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, 48 hours before the start of the war.

Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing.

  • 19 March: The start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is announced by President Bush as tells the nation that US forces are beginning their military operation in Iraq.

At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.

We will defend our freedom. We will bring freedom to others and we will prevail.

– US President George Bush
  • 20 March: US-led forces invaded Iraq from Kuwait as the "Shock and Awe' campaign begun at 0534 local time (0234 GMT).
Smoke rises from a building as explosions rock Baghdad
Smoke rises from a building as explosions rock Baghdad Credit: Reuters
A huge explosion hits one of Saddam Hussein's palaces during air strikes in March 2003.
A huge explosion hits one of Saddam Hussein's palaces during air strikes in March 2003. Credit: Reuters

A short time after the air strikes began, Iraqi TV broadcast what it said was a live speech by Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein appeared defiant as the invasion was launched Credit: Reuters

I don't need to remind you what you should do to defend our country."Let the unbelievers go to hell, you will be victorious, Iraqi people.

– Iraqi President Saddam Hussein

Later that day, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair advised the nation that British forces were in action in Iraq.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Prime Minister Tony Blair told the nation that British troops were "engaged from air, land and sea" in the war against Iraq. Credit: PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Tonight, British servicemen and women are engaged from air, land and sea. Their mission: to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.

Removing Saddam will be a blessing to the Iraqi people.....I hope the Iraqi people hear this message. We are with you. Our enemy is not you, but your barbarous rulers.

  • 21 March: On day two of the mission, US and British forces launch their offensive into southern Iraq, including Basra, Iraq's second city.
British Royal Marines from 40 Commando in southern Iraq
British Royal Marines from 40 Commando are seen after securing al-Faw oil field in southern Iraq
  • 23 March: The Battle for Nassiriya was one of the first major battles of the invasion between Iraqi forces and US marines. A lot was at stake as the city was on the way to Baghdad. The Marines eventually passed after heavy fighting.

Report by James Mates

  • 27 March: Tony Blair and George Bush meet at US presidential retreat Camp David to discuss the progress of the war in Iraq and plans for the post-war reconstruction.
Tony Blair and George Bush held a joint news conference at Camp David.
Tony Blair and George Bush held a joint news conference at Camp David. Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
  • 6 April: Just over two weeks after the start of the conflict, the British 7th Armoured Brigade entered Basra.
A British Warrior armoured combat vehicle drives into a picture of Saddam Hussein in the city of Basra
A British Warrior armoured combat vehicle drives into a picture of Saddam Hussein in the city of Basra Credit: Reuters/Mark Richards
A little girl is held as families flee Basra
A little girl is held as families flee Basra as the siege by US and British troops intensifies. Credit: Reuters
  • 9 April: Less than a month after the operation began, US forces captured Baghdad, Iraq's capital city. It was a landmark moment.
A statue of Saddam Hussein is pulled down in  central Baghdad in April 9, 2003.
A statue of Saddam Hussein is pulled down in central Baghdad in April 9, 2003. Credit: Reuters
  • 1 May: Standing aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq.
President Bush declares an end to major combat in Iraq

My fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraqhave ended.

Because of you our nation is more secure. Because of you the tyranthas fallen and Iraq is free

– US President George Bush

It conservatively appeared as though the war was officially over but in reality it was just beginning.