The United States and Iraq have witnessed a long period of conflicts marked by a number of wars either directly between the two countries or indirectly by having the United States intervening in a conflict involving Iraq and Iran in support of either of the sides. The US war in Iraq started in 2003 with claims of presence of weapons of mass destruction amassed by the then Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. This war was opposed to by the UN Security Council which found no tangible reason for attacking Iraq. The war was also in total contravention of the UN charter on security. The charter states that any war waged against member state would be for the purpose of individual or collective defense against attacks whether real or imminent. It also requires that the war must be approved by the Security Council in an effort to maintain and restore international peace and security.

The US had issued an ultimatum for the Iraq’s president to step down failure to which the country would be attacked. While entering the war, the then US president George Bush said in a speech that they were going to Iraq in order to disarm Iraq, give freedom to the people of Iraq, and finally to defend the world from danger of weapon of mass destruction. However, sufficient evidence indicates that none of the reasons given by the US and its ally the United Kingdom for attacking was true. In fact reports indicate that the US top brass manipulated the public by collecting and making public all evidences that were incriminating to the government of Iraq. Furthermore, unsubstantiated, unreliable, and flawed claims were made by the administration. One of the allegations that the US made for entering Iraq was that it had been established that Iraq imported aluminum tubes from Niger for nuclear centrifuges. Feith (2009) argue that numerous allegations were clear falsehoods and fabrications.  In fact any attempt to present factual and well sourced evidence was fully discredited by the US.

 The United Nations Charter is a treaty ascended to by the government of US and thus forms part of the supreme law of the land under the Constitution, Article VI, and Clause 2. The UN Charter is probably the highest treaty in the world that supersedes the states’ conflicting obligations in any other international agreement whether unilateral or bilateral (Art. 103, UN Charter). By starting the war in Iraq the US acted in total contravention of the charter and its own constitution. The former secretary general of UN Kofi Annan said that the decision to take action in Iraq was not done by the Security Council but rather it was a unilateral decision taken by the US. However, it is also noted that the Security Council acted in a limited and selective manner which had sometimes made its work fail. This was partly due to the fact that it was never formed as the centre of a comprehensive collective security. However, it largely remains the sole custodian of international peace and security.

This paper is aimed at establishing the reasons that led to the invasion of Iraq by the Americans. It looks at various theories for explaining causes of the war between these two countries. The paper starts by looking at the historical and theoretical background leading to war, examining the role of Security Council and the UN charter on issues of international peace and security, and analyzing the possible outcome of this war on both the Iraqi people, the US, and the international community as embodied in the UN charter.

Many theories have been put forward to explain the reasons behind the US war in Iraq. For instance one theory is the social conflict theory, which explains that the mass media contributed to the escalation of this war. Macionis (2012) reports that this was the first war in which the US television crews were physically involved reporting everything firsthand. It is clear that media organizations supported the war. This was clearly indicated by the fact that most news organizations reported about the way the war was advancing. Journalists were constantly reporting the numbers of the US soldiers killed by the Iraq’s soldiers while outrageously downplaying the harm that Iraqi civilians were bearing. Most of the Americans did not have a clear view on the war and many seemed to be misconceived about the war.

The Rise of Saddam Hussein

According to Tucker (2010) Saddam Hussein is perhaps the most recognizable leader that Iraq has ever had. He ruled the country for over three decades until he was overthrown by the government of the US under the leadership of the then president George W. Bush. Tucker (2010) reports that Saddam Hussein got involved with the Baath party while being in college in Baghdad in 1956. Being a member of the party Hussein played a role in an abortive coup attempt. He succeeded in overthrowing the monarch and immediately started to plan on killing the Prime Minister Abdel-Karim Qassem. But his plans failed and he fled the country. In 1963 when the Baath party took control of Baghdad, Saddam Hussein returned home and begun campaigning for a power position in the party. However, he did not succeed as the Baath party was outlawed and disbanded and Hussein was jailed. He remained in prison until the party returned to power through a coup in July 1968. Hussein then succeeded in getting a position in the ruling Revolutionary Command Council (Tucker, 2010).

For many years Hussein worked as the force behind the ailing president Ahmed Hassan Bakr. In 1976 Hussein was appointed as a general in the Iraqi armed forces and he quickly became the strongman in the government. Tucker (2010) observes that Hussein took advantage of the weakling elderly president’s al-Bakr inability to play a prominent role of the ultimate representative of the government of Iraq in both internal and external matters. He then became the designer of all Iraq’s foreign policies and represented the nation in all diplomatic missions. He later took over power in 1979 and embarked on his dictatorship killing his enemies and rivals so that he could possess unquestionable leadership.

Tucker (2010) noted that Saddam went on a mission to make Iraq the leader in the Middle East by attacking Iran which was stronger than he had thought. According to him US took this chance to make use of Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein to bring Iran under control. US had a rough relationship with Iran before then. This was made possible since Saddam Hussein was equally determined to gain the leadership of the entire Middle East which was being held by Iran. Hussein had, therefore, started his attacking Iran, though with much difficulty because the country lacked modern and superior weapons.

Iran – Iraq War (1980-88)

The Iran–Iraq War lasted from September 1980 to August 1988 and is considered to be the longest conventional war of the 20th century. According to Hallenberg &  Karlsson (2005), Iraq invaded Iran by launching a simultaneous invasion by air and land into the territory in1980 in regard to a long history of border disputes. In this war the Iraqi leadership wanted to replace Iran as the dominant Persian Gulf state. Hallenberg & Karlsson (2005) noted that the Iraqi leadership hoped to take the advantage of the revolutionary movement in Iran and, therefore, they attacked without giving any formal warning. For the next six years, Iran was under attack by the forces of Iraq.

Moreover, the hostility between the two neighbors continued until 1988 when the UN Security Council brokered a ceasefire through UN Security Council Resolution number 598, which was agreed upon by both nations (Hallenberg & Karlsson, 2005). The war had heavy toll on the economic and social lives of the citizens of both countries. It is estimated that over half a million people died in this war leaving many injured. However, it never resolved the border issues that had caused it. This war has been compared to the World War I in the way it was fought and the kind of tactics that were used by both troops. It was also noted that chemical weapons were used in the war. However, Hallenberg & Karlsson (2005) observe that what seemed to have annoyed the US and triggered it to get involved in the war was the failure by the UN to mention in its statement that Iraq had used these weapons against the Iranians as well as the Iraqi Kurds.

However, Hussein intensified his attacks on Iran and even started to carry out well organized attacks on the US. Agitated by the actions of Iraq United States was therefore compelled even more by the actions of Iraq to hit back directly. Giving an example of such cases, Tucker (2010) points out to the 9/11 attack on the US twin towers which led to successive 2003 US attack on Iraq. He notes that this attack led to the fall of Saddam Hussein as US extensively fought his authorities. In addition, the then United States’ President Bush declared that he was committed to see Iran defeat Iraq. Through such declarations, the United States sustained the war between Iraq and Iran.

Initially, Hussein had planned to take advantage of his advanced weapons that had earlier been supplied by United States to claim some parts of Iranian territory especially those which were rich in oil. However, following the admission of Iran to the demands of the United States, the country later received backup of its weaponry from the United States. Iran was, therefore, able to defeat Iraq in1982 since its weapons were more advanced compared to those that had been given to Iraq. Saddam Hussein had no option but to withdraw his troops from the territory of the Iranians.

A Theoretical Perspective of US Relations with Iraq

Lansford (2011) observes that the US has always used their enemies to help them know who they are in terms of power. Interestingly, the relationship between the United States and Iraq has been both good and bad for a long time. This philosophy of having a perceived enemy has led the US to shake hands with Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s rule but to send troops later in his country to capture him. Lansford (2011) notes that during the Cold War the foreign policy of the United States in relation to its enemy Soviet Union was shaped accordingly. Nevertheless, this enemy disappeared after the fall of the Berlin wall. Certainly the US had to have another enemy who would help give it an identity.

It is notable that the US policies towards Iraq were relaxed at a time when it was using chemical weapons against the Iranians. The US considered that an actual or perceived opposition to such use was clearly not seen to serve US interests. Iran was the enemy of the US and any means that Iraq would use against the Iran were justifiable. Welsh & Zaum (2008) note that the Reagan administration did not diverge from its willpower that Iraq was to serve as the instrument of preventing an Iranian victory. Chemical warfare was perceived to be a potentially embarrassing problem of public relations that made efforts aimed to provide assistance complicated.

Singh & Macdonald (2002) further argue that the repressive internal policies used by the Iraqi government, although well known by the US government at the time, were not condemned at all. Notably, the policies did not figure in directives from the president which established US policy toward the Iran-Iraq war. Authors argue that the US was concerned with its ability to retain military force in the Middle East thus continue enjoying region’s rich oil resources.

However, the September 11 terrorists’ attacks altered the way the US viewed the Middle East and specifically Iraq, which was struggling under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. According to Lansford (2011) even though   the   civilian   deaths   from September 11 attacks   were minimal compared to those Americans suffered from car accidents or drug addiction, the response of the United States was overwhelming if not lopsided.  This, Lansford (2011) explains, heralded the era of an uncertain enemy.  Iraq, therefore, proved to be an easy target in the quest of the US to have an enemy. Consequently, the new enemy was to be defined in terms of international terrorism and threat to world security. The US responded to the terrorist attacks by fighting terrorists and their protectors in Afghanistan and all around the world.

The new national strategy of the US was to articulate comprehensive policies against the new enemy. Accordingly, the US changed its approach to outside world from defensive to preemptive action (Lansford, 2011). In this regard, many questions have been asked over the selection of the enemy after the September 11 attack. For instance, why did the US specifically pick on Iraq and not more probable enemies like Iran or North Korea? The bottom line is the historical eventuality that requires the analysis of the relationship between Iraq and the US and its relevance to the war against terrorism (Crocker & Hampson, 2007)

However, Lando (2008) explains that anarchy is obviously an important part of the war between the United States and Iraq. He further notes that values and identity are central to the conflict. He observes that the distribution of capabilities in terms of military endowment is extremely peripheral element. Additionally, Lando (2008) suggests that the main reason of the current conflict is based on the way in which the identity of the US has been shaped by both present and past enemies. Additionally, this war is also fuelled by the interplay of the US foreign policies and the need to form identity in the world full of competition. As Macionis (2012) observes the need of US to face a clear danger embodied in an enemy and to ascertain their world superpower is evidenced with their awkward clash with other nations. No wonder the target after the September 11 attack was Iraq and not Iran or North Korea, which would have proved to be fatal targets.

The 1990’s Sanctions

The Great Britain Parliamentary report (2007) identified a number of economic sanctions that were laid against Iraq by the United Nation Security Council. The report indicates that the UN resolution against Iraq had five conditions that forced the country to comply. The first resolution was carried out in 1991 through which the UN imposed Resolution 687 that compelled Iraq to stop its attack on Kuwait. According to the Great Britain Parliamentary report (2007), this resolution also banned Iraq’s further export of oil and other commodities. This condition made Iraq lose its international market. The country thus became even more economically vulnerable, because export was one of its major sources of revenue with a good percentage of its citizens depending directly on export of different commodities.

The UN resolution 687 was also intended to compel the Iraq’s Baghdad to stop carrying out its ballistic missile program. This particular resolution allowed the UN Security Council to carry out security inspections to ascertain the claim that Iraq was involved in manufacturing dangerous weapons including both the nuclear and chemical weapon programs. This shows that UN Security Council employed force to ensure that Iraq complied with these resolutions. According to the report, the major powers had strongly believed that if left to continue with its programs, Iraq would grow to a state dangerous to the rest of the world. 

In April 1991 the UN Security Council imposed Resolution 688 that was meant to protect the Iraqis civilian population from the country’s autocratic government. The UN Security Council developed measures that would ensure that the Iraqi government was not able to carry out any further violation of human rights. This action was informed by the earlier occurrences in Baghdad. The Great Britain Parliamentary report (2007) noted that US actively supported the reinforcement of this ban especially when dictatorial Saddam Hussein who actively violated human right was still in power.

The last resolution imposed by the UN Security Council was resolution 715 which was majorly to deter Iraq from any further engagement in mass destructive weapons. According to the report, Iraq was finally allowed to resume its participation in the international market after agreeing with all the provisions of these resolutions.

The Theoretical Perspective of UN Resolutions

The initial aim of the UN resolution was to avoid the spread of the Gulf war while at the same time addressing the various forms of human rights violations that had been evidenced. Though it succeeded to some extent, the UN Security Council has been criticized for failing to consider the kind of economic and political impacts that the resolutions would have had on the people of Iraq. According to Jackson and Sorensen (2007), it is evidenced that the UN’s economic sanctions resulted into immense economic decline, which in its turn adversely affected the people of Iraq. They note that as a result, millions of the Iraqi people died of hunger.

The effect of these sanctions was made worse by the fact that the economic stability of Iraq has majorly been dependent on its exports. It, therefore, means that the suctions left the country economically vulnerable and unable to provide its citizens with the basic needs. Jackson & Sorensen (2007) further note that the lethal effect of this resolution became clear in a report released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) which had indicated that there was a  tremendous increase in the number of children under the age of five who circum death due to the resulting hunger and diseases. UN was thus accused of violating human rights with some analysts even questioning the ultimate goal of such resolutions.

Critical Outcome of the Second Gulf War

According to Tucker (2010), the war was started by the US and the UK after the claims of possession of the weapons of mass destruction by the government of Iraq. The two aggressors claimed that the Iraqi government posed a threat to world security. Tucker (2010) noted that UN resolution passed in 2002 required the Iraqi government to fully cooperate with inspectors from the UN.  The inspectors were mandated to verify whether Iraq was in possession of cruise missiles and the weapons of mass destruction. Reportedly, no evidence was found to prove the possession of these weapons by Iraq but the accuracy of Iraq’s weapon declaration would not be verified. However, investigation following the invasion by the US concluded that Iraq had stopped its nuclear, chemical, and biological programs in 1991. It was found out that Iraq did not have any active programs at the time of the invasion. Lobe & Ratner (2009) suggest that the report indicated that the country only intended to resume production following the imminent lifting of the sanctions.

Tucker  (2010) claims that even the accusation of the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by some US officials of harboring and supporting al-Qaeda insurgents was not proved. He noted that no evidence was ever found to prove a connection with the terror group. Interestingly, there were other reasons for invading Iraq which included the claim that Iraq was supporting the families of Palestinian suicide bombers financially. Similarly, there were claims of Iraqi government abusing human rights as well as the vaguely stated need to spread democracy in Iraq (Tucker, 2010).

Theoretical Outcomes of the First Persian Gulf War

The first Persian Gulf War, which is said to have resulted from the determination of Saddam Hussein to invade and take control over Kuwait in the year 1991, is said to have led to the US involvement into the war. However, the war also proved that the interest of the US was not just to restore peace. Ballard (2010) points out that through its operation “Desert Shield” US began to deploy a number of Iraq’s soldiers with the intention of safeguarding areas rich in oil for its economic benefit. This was clear when the US administration specifically employed its troops in oil rich areas. The US further influenced the UN security resolution to put restrictions which saw Iraq being forced to withdraw its troops from Kuwait (Ballard, 2010).

The first Persian Gulf War, therefore, led to a number of economic sanctions against Iraq. Ballard (2010) noted that this in turn worsened the county’s already unstable economy rendering it unable to satisfy the basic needs of its population. It further resulted into the death of a big number of Iraq’s citizens especially those who could not afford the basic needs. Apart from the economic sanctions, the US and Britain also declared a no-flying zone in Iraq by carrying bombing of Iraq which led to the increase of the number of Iraqis who died.

Additionally, the war left Iraq in debts which made it difficult for Saddam Hussein to be able to borrow from the rich Arab nations. The states had maintained that Iraq had to compensate them first for the losses they incurred during the war because they perceived Iraq as the sole cause of the war. This left Iraq at the mercy of the United States (Ballard, 2010).

The Theoretical Perspective of the War on Terror

The September 11, 2001 terror attack on New York’s world trading center changed the perspective of world’s anti-terror activities. Jackson and Sorensen (2007) claim that the tragedy that occurred on 9/11 caused fear of the possibility of more attacks from the terrorist groups. The incident triggered the US to carry out an intensive search of the mass destructive weapons in Iraq destroying those that were found. Additionally, the then US president G.W. Bush circulated rumors that Saddam Hussein was involved in the bombing. The US thus managed to get support from across the world enabling it to continue with its attacks in Iraq until it managed to eliminate Saddam Hussein.

Jackson and Sorensen (2007) point out that the major aim of the United States in involving itself in the war on terror was to eliminate the terror organizations. It majorly targeted leaders such as Osama Bin Laden whom it managed to track down and kill. Another leader was Libyan Muammar Gaddafi. The deaths of these two terrorist leaders indicate to the world’s commitment to fighting any terror activities.


In conclusion, it is clear that the war between the United States and Iraq has been triggered and sustained by different factors. The major factors include the lack of political goodwill to terminate the war and the greed for resources. The other factors include the greed for power and the fear of insecurity. The war also resulted from the need of political leaders to successfully use their powers to establish democratic nations around the world. The write up has also raised the issue of the importance of certain considerations when imposing sanctions on nations, especially the effect it will have on their citizens.

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