A pair of Australian RAAF F/A-18 Hornets in the air on a bombing raid over Iraq

The Second Gulf War, 2003–09

(The Iraq War)

International sanctions continued against Iraq after the First Gulf War and throughout the 1990’s. Australia participated as part of the blockade fleet in the Persian Gulf, led by HMAS Anzac. The continuation of strict sanctions reflected UN dissatisfaction with Iraq’s level of cooperation and disclosure in relation to its requirements from the first Gulf War. Those requirements were that Iraq relinquish its ballistic missiles and give up any weapons of mass destruction and equipment and materials for making them. Whilst Iraq maintained that it did not possess such capacity or ambition, it’s previous use of chemical weapons in a military context and on its own civilian Kurdish population fuelled continued western suspicion.

Years Active

Australians Served

Australians Wounded

Australians Killed



A pair of Australian RAAF F/A-18 Hornets in the air on a bombing raid over Iraq

On 11 September 2001 the world jumped to attention with the deadly terrorist attacks upon the USA. There was no clear connection linking Iraq to the attacks but nervousness and sense of vulnerability amongst the US made the complete disarming of Iraq a renewed priority. Iraq had previously expelled the weapons inspectors but in November 2002 the UN, under pressure from the US demanded their re-admittance and full Iraqi compliance with all previous resolutions. Whilst Iraq reluctantly agreed, the United States and the United Kingdom remained convinced that Iraq never intended full cooperation with weapons inspection and began to mass troops around Iraq in preparation for a military conflict.

The US continued to assert that Iraq was still concealing weapons of mass destruction and also alleged links with terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, in demanding military action against the Iraqi regime. However, they failed to win the backing of the UN, particularly as the new group of weapons inspectors were reporting very little in the way of prohibited weapons and materials. Unable to obtain UN backing to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein, the United States controversially pressed ahead with a “coalition of the willing”. The chief coalition participants were the United States, Britain, and Australia.

The Second Gulf War commenced on 20 March 2003, .with the launch of a series of air attacks on targets in Iraq, followed by an invasion of ground forces from Kuwait in the south. As U.S. troops drove northward, they met resistance that was sometimes heavy but was generally poorly organized. On April 9, resistance in Baghdad collapsed and U.S. soldiers took control of the city. On that same day, British forces secured Al-Baṣrah. Iraq’s other major cities fell within days.

The corrupt and brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein had been overthrown. Eight months later on December 13, 2003, Saddam surrendered to U.S. troops when he was found hiding near Tikrit. With his subsequent execution for crimes against humanity on 30 December 2006, the wheel had turned full circle on the man and regime initially supported by the West in the 1980’s, as a moderate counterweight to the spread of fundamental Islam in the region via Iran.

The removal of Saddam’s regime left a substantial power vacuum and many years of internal power struggles, political violence and instability. Civilian deaths continued at alarming rates, as the nation teetered on the brink of civil war. Attacks on coalition forces also increased, coinciding with the increase of US ground troops to help stem the flow of violence and to assist with the re-building of the nation.

Australia’s military contribution included navy surveillance and mine clearance operations in the Persian Gulf and Iraqi waterways and the location and destruction of Scud missile sites by SAS teams. In the air, we deployed FA/18 Hornets on bombing raids, Orion reconnaissance missions and Hercules flights for troop supply and later humanitarian drops. Australian troops also assisted in re-construction, rehabilitation and training tasks. Our 2006 peak troop contingent in Iraq numbered 1400, was reduced to 1,000 in mid-2008 and our operational role ceased on 31 July 2009. Two Australian service personnel died in this conflict.

The US  withdraw all forces on 18 December 2011, thus ending the war.
No weapons of mass destruction were unearthed by inspectors but the discovery of mass graves bore witness to the human toll of the atrocities committed by Saddam’s regime.


Australian War Memorial
Encyclopaedia Britannica

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