Military Wiki
Battle of Baghdad (2003)
Part of the 2003 invasion of Iraq
Statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Firdos Square
DateApril 3–12, 2003
LocationBaghdad, Iraq
Result Decisive American victory, the fall of Ba'ath Party and Saddam Hussein
Iraq Iraq United States United States
 United Kingdom (Air Support)
Commanders and leaders
Iraq Qusay Hussein
Iraq Sayf al-Din al-Rawi
Iraq Ra'ad al-Hamdani[1]
45,000 30,000
Casualties and losses
1,700–2,120 killed (Independent estimate)[2]
2,320 killed (U.S. military estimate)[3]
34 killed[4]
1 A-10 Thunderbolt II shot down

The Battle of Baghdad also known as the Fall of Baghdad was a military invasion of Baghdad that took place in early April 2003, as part of the invasion of Iraq.

Three weeks into the invasion of Iraq, Coalition Forces Land Component Command elements, led by the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division moved into Baghdad. The United States declared victory on April 14, and President George W. Bush gave his Mission Accomplished Speech on May 1.

Baghdad suffered serious damage to its civilian infrastructure, economy, and cultural inheritance from its bombing and invasion, as well as looting and arson. During the invasion, the Al-Yarmouk Hospital in south Baghdad saw a steady rate of about 100 new patients an hour.[5]

Several thousand Iraqi soldiers were killed in the battle, and a very small number of coalition forces. After the fall of Baghdad, Coalition forces entered the city of Kirkuk on April 10 and Tikrit on April 15, 2003.


A T-72 Asad Babil abandoned after facing the final US thrust into Baghdad

A Marine Corps M1 Abrams tank patrols a Baghdad street after its fall in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

NASA Landsat 7 image of Baghdad, April 2, 2003. The dark streaks are smoke from oil well fires set in an attempt to hinder attacking air forces.

Limited bombing began on March 19, 2003 as United States forces unsuccessfully attempted to kill Saddam Hussein. Attacks continued against a small number of targets until March 21, 2003, when, at 1700 UTC, the main bombing campaign of the US and their allies began. Its forces launched approximately 1700 air sorties (504 using cruise missiles).[6] The invasion of the city commenced three days after Allied forces led by Major General Buford Blount and the 3rd Infantry Division had secured the Baghdad airport.

U.S. officials said that their forces fought skirmishes there with Iraq's Special Republican Guard, with two task forces going up to the Tigris river from the southern outskirts of the city before moving west towards the airport. Major General Victor Renuart said the intention was to indicate to the Iraqi leader that coalition forces could move in and out of Baghdad whenever they wished.[7] The Guardian reported that U.S. forces occupied two "presidential palaces".[8] The Army also surrounded the Information Ministry and other key government installations for a while.[9]

On March 24, retired US Army general Barry McCaffrey, told BBC Newsnight: "If [the Iraqis] actually fight, clearly it's going to be brutal, dangerous work and we could take, bluntly, a couple to 3,000 casualties".[10]


The invasion of Baghdad was led by the United States Army's 3rd Infantry Division and the United States Marine Corps' 1st Marine Division, equipped with M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M113 armored personnel carriers.[11] These forces along with American and British aircraft, including B-52s, Harrier GR7 attack jets and A10 Warthogs,[10] went against the Iraqi Special Republican Guard, of 36,000 soldiers protected in sprawling bunkers 30 miles outside Baghdad, using Asad Babil tanks and heavy artillery.[10]

Aerial bombing

At the time of invasion, Allied aircraft were making bombing runs on Baghdad at the rate of 1,000 sorties a day, most of them aimed at the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard.[12] U.S. planes also dropped about 200,000 leaflets warning civilians to stay in their homes.[5] An American Black Hawk helicopter was shot down near Karbala, and a United States Navy F/A-18C Hornet was shot down near Baghdad.[12]

Baghdad International Airport

The entrance when the airport was called Saddam International Airport

On April 4, 2003, First Brigade, Third Infantry Division advanced on the Baghdad International Airport. This location turned out to be the best defended Iraqi location of the entire war. Intense fighting continued for several hours and resulted in the capture of what would become the hub of American logistics in Iraq for the next seven years. During the fighting, Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith's actions resulted in the awarding of division's first Medal of Honor since World War II.

Thunder Runs

On April 5 Task Force 1–64 Armor of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, 2nd Brigade, executed a raid, later called the "Thunder Run", to test remaining Iraqi defenses. The operation began south of Baghdad and went through main roads to the newly secured airport. The force encountered no organized resistance, and appeared to have caught Iraqi forces completely off guard. The unit was forced to abandon one tank due to a recoilless rifle or RPG strike in the rear that penetrated a fuel cell and set the engine on fire. The crew was unharmed. Later, the Air Force bombed the tank to destroy it in place, and the Iraqi Information Ministry claimed credit for destroying it.

Two days later, the entire 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division was ordered to conduct another "Thunder Run", following the same route as before. This route had been fortified in the intervening period, and senior leaders feared much more substantial resistance than during the prior encounter. COL David Perkins, the brigade's commander, followed the original Thunder Run route north into Baghdad, but then veered east into the government districts instead of west towards the airport. The 2nd Brigade easily took control of what is now the "Green Zone" in one day, dramatically speeding up the end of conventional ground combat in Iraq.

This portion of the battle was described in detail in the book "Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad" by David Zucchino, published March 22, 2004. The book and battle are the subject of the movie "Thunder Run", directed by Simon West, featuring stars Sam Worthington, Gerard Butler, and Matthew McConaughey.[13]

Tharthar Palace

US Marines fighting Iraqi soldiers during in March 2003

On April 7, U.S. troops took control of a major presidential palace along the Tigris river. It had been hoped that leaders of the regime would be found in the complex, located near Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit.[14] American commanders on the ground said that they would remain in the city center rather than retreat to the outskirts as they had done previously.

Within hours of a palace seizure and with television coverage of this spreading through Iraq, U.S. 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.


As the American forces secured control of the capital, Iraqi civilians immediately began looting the palaces, as well as government offices. At the Yarmuk Hospital, not only all beds, but all medical equipment was stolen.[citation needed] One other hospital managed to keep on functioning in a manner by organizing local civilians as armed guards.

Serious looting was described at National Museum of Iraq, and the Saddam Arts Center, the University of Baghdad, three five-star hotels: the Al-Rashid, the Al-Mansour and Babel Hotel, state-owned supermarkets, many embassies, and state-owned factories.[15]

At the National Museum of Iraq, which had been a virtual repository of treasures from the ancient Mesopotamian cultures as well as early Islamic culture, many of the 170,000 irreplaceable artifacts were either stolen or broken (partially found safe and well later). On April 14, the Iraq National Library and National Archives were burned down, destroying thousands of manuscripts from civilizations dating back as far as 7,000 years.[16]

Within eight days following the 2003 invasion, only 35, or 5% of the 700 animals in the Baghdad Zoo survived. This was a result of theft of some animals for human food, and starvation of caged animals that had no food or water.[17] Survivors included larger animals like lions, tigers, and bears.[17] Notwithstanding the chaos brought by the invasion, South African Lawrence Anthony and some of the zoo keepers cared for the animals and fed the carnivores with donkeys they had bought locally.[17][18]

Political control

As the U.S. forces were occupying the Republican Palace and other central landmarks and ministries on April 9, Saddam Hussein had emerged from his command bunker beneath the Al A'Zamiyah district of northern Baghdad, and greeted excited members of the local public. This impromptu walkabout was probably his last and his reasons for doing so are still unclear. It is possible that he wished to take what he thought might be his last opportunity to greet his people as their country's president. The walkabout was captured on film and broadcast several days after the event on Al-Arabia Television and was also witnessed by ordinary people who corroborated the date afterwards. He was accompanied by bodyguards and other loyal supporters including at least one of his sons and his personal secretary. After the walkabout Hussein returned to his bunker and made preparations for his family.

On April 9, 2003, Baghdad was formally occupied by Coalition forces. Much of Baghdad remained unsecured however, and fighting continued within the city and its outskirts well into the period of occupation. Saddam, certain members of his family and close subordinates 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 cult of personality. One widely publicized event was the dramatic toppling of a large statue of Saddam in Baghdad's Fardus Square. This attracted considerable media coverage at the time.

Firdos Square statue destruction

Before a conglomerate of international press (and small crowd of around 100 U.S.-supported Iraqi militia[19][20]), a 20-foot-tall (6.1 m) statue of Saddam in Firdus Square was toppled by an U.S. Marine Corps M88 Recovery Vehicle. Initially, a Marine corporal named Edward Chin of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines Regiment placed a United States flag on the statue's head, though it was replaced with an Iraqi flag. Various other symbols of the president's personality cult were defaced.

Search for Hussein

The Americans had meanwhile started receiving rumors that Saddam was in Al A'Zamiyah and at dawn on April 10, they dispatched three companies of U.S. Marines to capture him. The marines fought a fierce four-hour battle at a Baghdad mosque where senior Iraqi leaders had been thought to be holed up, as American warplanes attacked areas of the city under the control of Iraqi fighters. "We had information that a group of regime leadership was attempting to organize...a meeting. The fighting in and around the mosque complex could not be avoided as enemy forces were firing from the area of the mosque." said Navy captain Frank Thorp. Marines came under fire from rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and assault rifles. One marine was killed and more than 20 were wounded, but neither Saddam nor any of his aides were found.


Black Hawk helicopters from 5th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) move into an Iraqi city during an operation to occupy the city, April 5.

Iraq, which had no free press, initially issued a statement contradicting western reporters' accounts of the invasion.[citation needed] Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf, head of the Information Ministry, told a press conference on April 7 that there were no U.S. troops in Baghdad, saying: "Their infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of Baghdad. Be assured, Baghdad is safe, protected. Iraqis are heroes."[21]

On April 8, two American air to surface missiles hit Al Jazeera's office in Baghdad and killed a reporter and wounded a cameraman. The nearby office of Arab satellite channel Abu Dhabi was also hit by air strikes. Al Jazeera accused the U.S. of attacking Arab media to hide facts.[citation needed] On the same day a U.S. Army tank fired into the 15th floor of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, where almost all foreign journalists resided, and killed two cameramen and wounded three. In the Abu Dhabi case the station aired the picture of Iraqi fire from beneath of the camera. In the hotel case, however, other journalists on the scene deny any fire from or around the hotel.[22][23]

External links


  1. Woods, Kevin M. (2009) Iraqi Perspectives Project: A View of Operation Iraqi Freedom from Saddam's Senior Leadership p. 210 ISBN 0-9762550-1-4 
  2. The Wages of War – Appendix 1. Survey and assessment of reported Iraqi combatant fatalities in the 2003 War
  3. Iraqi Death Toll, Health Perils Assessed by Medical Group
  4. Iraq Coalition Casualties: Military Fatalities
  5. 5.0 5.1 Zoroya, Gregg; Walt, Vivienne (April 7, 2003). " – From the battered streets of Baghdad, it's clear: 'The battle has reached us'". USA Today. Retrieved April 10, 2010. "U.S. planes also dropped about 200,000 leaflets warning civilians to stay in their homes" 
  6. "Operation Iraqi Freedom – By the Numbers", USCENTAF, April 30, 2003, 15.
  7. "US forces raid Baghdad". BBC News. April 5, 2003. Retrieved April 26, 2010. 
  8. Jeffery, Simon (April 7, 2003). "US forces occupy palaces". The Guardian. London.,2763,931721,00.html. Retrieved April 26, 2010. 
  9. "DAYBOOK : A look at the day's major developments in the war with Iraq". The Washington Post. April 8, 2003. Archived from the original on September 17, 2012. Retrieved April 26, 2010. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 [chrome://browser/content/browser.xul "Battle for Baghdad begins"]. chrome://browser/content/browser.xul. Retrieved April 10, 2010. "" 
  11. Sipress, Alan (April 5, 2003). "U.S. Forces Enter the Heart of Baghdad". Washington Post. Retrieved November 19, 2006. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Tyler, Patrick E. (April 3, 2003). "Combat - U.S. Ground Forces Sweep Toward Baghdad -". The New York Times. Retrieved April 10, 2010. "Allied aircraft are making bombing runs at the rate of 1,000 sorties a day, most of them aimed at Mr. Hussein's guard divisions." [dead link]
  14. "US poised for Baghdad battle". BBC. Thursday, April 3, 2003, 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK. Retrieved April 10, 2010. 
  15. Collier, Robert (April 12, 2003). "Looters shake Iraqi cities / CHAOS: Troops watch as Baghdad is ransacked – SFGate". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved April 10, 2010. 
  16. Eskander, Saad. "The Tale of Iraq's 'Cemetery of Books' " (cover story), in: Information Today; Dec 2004, Vol. 21, issue 11, p. 1-54; 5 pl, 1 color
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 "The Choice, featuring Lawrence Anthony". BBC radio 4. September 4, 2007. Retrieved September 4, 2007. 
  18. Anthony, Lawrence; Spence Grayham (June 3, 2007). Babylon's Ark; The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo. Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 0-312-35832-6. 
  19. The photographs tell the story
  20. Ludwig, Steve (May 29, 2003). "Lights, camera, rescue". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 
  21. "World News, Business News, Breaking US & International News". Reuters. 
  22. Perlez, Jane (April 8, 2003). "At Least 3 Journalists Die in Blast at Baghdad Hotel". The New York Times. Retrieved March 28, 2010. [dead link]

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