Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

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March 18, 2003

US Ready to Act on Iraq

US President George W. Bush, at 20.00hrs on March 17, 2003 (US Eastern Time) gave Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein and his sons 48 hours to leave Iraq after which the US-led coalition would move militarily against Saddam’s forces “at a time of our [US] choosing”. Pres. Bush, in a 15-minute radio address to the US and international publics, urged all members of the Iraqi Armed Forces and military not to fight “for a dying regime”, not to destroy oil wells and not to obey orders to use weapons of mass destruction.

Pres. Bush cited a failure of the United Nations Security Council, but said that existing UN resolutions and agreements signed by Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War gave the US and the international community the right to intercede militarily against Saddam, and that the UN did not abrogate the US’ sovereign rights to defend itself.

In Britain, former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who had been sidelined by the Blair Government and who had earlier refused to resign from the Government over a series of sex scandals and lies to Parliament, resigned from the Government on March 17, 2003, because of the Blair Government’s commitment to the war against Iraqi Pres. Saddam. Prime Minister Tony Blair faced a major challenge on March 18, 2003, from parliamentarians from his own Labour Party.

In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard said that Australia would send troops to support the Coalition war against Iraq. Australia had already sent about 2,000 troops to the Gulf, including élite Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment troops, along with F/A-18 Hornet fighters, other support aircraft, and warships.