The UK and the US together with their coalition partners launched military operation in Iraq on March 20, 2003. The U.S. stated that the main reason for the invasion was Iraq’s failure to abide by the treaty, signed by the UN Security Council. While the U.S. and its allies stated that disarmament of the Iraqi civilians and terror groups was their main agenda in the war, there have been various theoretical analyses used to explain the real reasons for the war. The invasion decision is unprecedented, particularly based on the extensive stay of the U.S. military in Iraq. This paper seeks to evaluate the main reasons for the war, based on the theories that explain the causes of war.

Historical Background

Rise of Saddam Hussein

Saddam Hussein is one of the most recognized Iraq leaders. He became actively involved in politics for the first time, while in college in Baghdad. He was a member of the Baath party and took part in the abortive coup attempt in 1956. After the monarchy was overthrown, his next plan was to kill Abdel-Karim Qassim who was the Prime Minister at the time. However, his plans were discovered and he fled the country to save his life (Cockburn & Cockburn, 2002). When the Baath party took control in Baghdad around 1963, Saddam returned to fight for power in the party. Unfortunately, his plans did not succeed as the party was disbanded. He was jailed and remained in prison until the Baath party regained power after the July 1968 coup. While in prison, he still remained the secretary of the Baath party. He achieved his ambition of presidency in 1979 and began with killing most of his rivals.

Saddam carried out bloody rampages to scare his opponents (Cockburn & Cockburn, 2002). So many military officers and his close friends and associates lost their lives but he did not care. He used brutal acts to demand loyalty and ensure maximum control of the government. His tactic of unlashing terror on his opponents went a notch higher, when he began using chemical weapons. For instance, he burned down towns in the South and drained marshland. He was a dictator who could sacrifice his own country to remain in power. Although most Iraqis would agree with this statement, none of them would dare to say it in public.

Iran-Iraq War (1980-88)

Brooks & William (2002) explained that the pretence that Saddam was a benevolent leader was exposed on two occasions by his poor foreign policy. In 1980, he saw an opportunity to make Iraq the leader in the Arab world. He ordered his military forces to attack Iran, resulting to a fierce war between the two states. According to Karl Marx, war could be caused by the urge of a nation to control resources and gain competitive advantage. Viewed from a historical point of view, this war might have been part of the ancient Arab conflict that had been fueled by the border disputes in the twentieth century. He feared that the revolutionary leadership in Iran would threaten the delicate balance between the Sunni and Shia and would exploit the geostrategic vulnerabilities in Iraq.

The war was multifaceted: it included border disputes, religious conflicts as well as political differences. The conflicts resulted from religious and ethnic disputes between the Arabs and Persians as well as old Sunni and Shia. The personal animosity between Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam also contributed to the war. Above all, Saddam wanted to replace Iran as the most powerful Arab state in the Persian Gulf. Iran and Iraq had been involved in border disputes over the years that led to the Arvand-Round waterway dispute witnessed in 1979. Iraq insisted that the 200 km channel from Iraq to the shore of Iran was its territory. Iran, on the other hand, was adamant that the official border was at the centre of the water way that was negotiated in 1975 (Brooks & William, 2002). For the Iraqis, the 1975 treaty was just a truce. They also felt that the revolutionary Islamic agenda of Iran threatened their pan-Arabism.

In 1980, Iraq attacked the Iranian airbase by surprise in an attempt to destroy the Iranians aircrafts but failed. Simultaneously, Iran attacked Iraq few hours later. Iraq managed to capture the Shatt al Arab and also hopped to take over Khorramshahr, which was renowned for extensive oil fields. According to Clarke (2004), the Iranian forces proved to be very strong, leading to the withdrawal of Iraq from the Iranian land by 1982. Iran’s offensive strategy was very successful compelling Iraq to opt for chemical weapons; a strategy that was strongly commended by the international community. Iran forces took over the MajnoonIsland and Fao peninsula in February 1984 and early 1986 respectively.

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In 1985, both forces began to strike the capital cities of their opponent. Several Western European nations, including the U.S., got involved in 1987, when Iranian forces attacked Kuwait oil tankers on transit through the Persian Gulf (Clarke, 2004). This act adversely affected Iran’s international reputation and made it difficult for the country to received arms from other nations like China, the U.S., North Korean and Libya. The largest supplier of arms to Iraq was the Soviet Union. In 1988, Iran had to agree to the call of a cease fire from the UN. The war claimed over 1.5 million lives. Iraq also accepted the terms, provided in the 1975 treaty, and stopped the war. According to the Marxist theory, the elites use external wars to gain control in new markets. External wars can, therefore, be politically useful as a way of self-legitimization.

U.S. Relations with Iraq

For most people, the relationships between the U.S. and Iraq begin in 1990, when Saddam attacked Kuwait. However, Clarke (2004) alleges that the relationship began way back. The best point to focus on these relationships is in 1979, during the Iranian Revolution. This period marked a change in the U.S. foreign policy, especially towards the Arab region. This is also the time, when Saddam Hussein took over the presidency in Iraq. The Iranian hostage crisis took place in November 1979: students had been holding Americans hostage at the U.S. embassy for a whole year. In the same year, President Jimmy Carter added Iraq on the list of countries that sponsored terrorism. The U.S. Defense Intelligent Agency stated in 1980 that Iraq had been using chemical weapons since the 1970s.

When President Reagan took office in 1981, the tilt towards Iraq began. While the U.S. pretended to be neutral in the Iraq-Iran war, the National Security Decision Directive vowed to do anything to ensure that Iraq won the war against Iran. Reagan also secretly removed Iraq from the list of terrorist sponsors without consulting the Congress. This shift in events marked the beginning of a close relationship between Reagan and Saddam Hussein’s administrations. The U.S. supported Iraq with military intelligence, credits, and supply of arms. However, in 1983, the State Department reiterated its allegations that Iraq was using chemical weapons and supported terrorist.

In 1983, Reagan and his close allies secretly allowed countries like Egypt, Kuwait, and Jordan to transfer weapons from U.S. to Iraq. He also asked the Prime minister of Italy to transfer arms to Iraq.  Things got a bit interesting in December 1983, when Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense who was one of the strongest opponents of Saddam, visited him in Baghdad. Although Rumsfeld claimed that the visit was meant to discuss terrorism in Lebanon, the State Department stated that he had gone to present a message from Reagan, expressing interest in strengthening their relationship (Klare, 2004).

Between 1985 and 1990, the U.S. sold many computers to the weapon lab in Iraq, when it clearly knew about the ballistic missiles being developed by Iraq. Reagan also approved the export of biological cultures to Iraq and over 70 shipments were exported. 8 more shipments were authorize by the Bush administration. In March 1988, it was reported that Iraq used the helicopters it had bought from U.S. to launch chemical weapons in Halabja. Two months later, Reagan’s administration pushed for more economic cooperation between Iraq and the U.S. In 1989, when international banks put an end to loaning money to Iraq, the Bush administration issued a National Security Directive 26 that declared closer relations with Iraq, including a guarantee of $1 billion loan. This allowed Iraq to develop WMDs (Klare, 2004). The directive was suspended in 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait. In July 18, 1990, Bush approved the sale of advanced technology worth $4.8 million to the Iraq’s weapon ministry. It is, therefore, evident that the U.S. had closer ties with Iraq prior to the war.

The First Persian Gulf War

It started in January 1991. According to Eckert (2008), this was a war between Iraq and a group of 32 nations, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and Britain. It resulted from Iraqi’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Saddam Hussein claimed that the invasion was a response to Kuwait’s overproduction of oil that cost Iraq over $14 billion per year, when oil prices dropped. He also accused Kuwait of stealing oil from the Rumaila oil field in Iraq.

Critical Outcomes

The best theory to explain the reason for war is the realism theory. According to Brooks & William (2002), this theory explains issues that deal with foreign policy. From a realist point of view, a state would decide to go to war because of the fear of potential hostility from other states. The leaders calculate the costs and benefits of the war in terms of the power and security of the state. Actions, taken by states, therefore, reflect the pressure imposed from relative states.

At one time, Bush publicly declared that the main reason for the invasion was to change the regime in Iraq. However, this is the same regime that Reagan and Bush had associated with for several years. Since Bush had already declared his intention to keep the U.S. military a power beyond challenge, he had to target Iraq because it was the weaker state in terms of military power compared to other states like Iran and North Korea. These enemy states had more threatening and advanced weapons of mass destruction that the U.S. could not risk attacking them. By this logic, the easiest state to attack was Iraq because it posed less threat. Since the intension of Bush’s administration was to demonstrate to the world how powerful its military was, it had to go for the weaker state because Iran and North Korean had more advanced weaponry.

The realism theory also points at the geostrategic location of Iraq as another reason for war (Brooks & William, 2002). Its geographical location was a threat to the U.S. security concerns because Iraq had unsurpassed oil resources that it could deploy against the interest of the U.S. Therefore, the U.S. had to ensure that Iraq does not use these resources to fight back. Additionally, by establishing military bases in Iraq, the U.S. would be able to extend its power into the Middle East, Africa as well as Central Asia. It would also have the capacity to secure the less secure military bases that it had established in Saudi Arabia. The U.S. was also interested in establishing a guaranteed supply of oil at a time, when there was an increasing demand for oil and diminishing domestic oil reserves. Having a military control over Iraq would guarantee this supply or else America’s competitors would have exploited these resources.

A secondary reason for overthrowing the Iraq regime would be to increase Israel’s security. Israel was the main U.S. ally in the region (Klare, 2004). This can be proved by the assertion of Wolfowitz, the U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary that the road to Jerusalem passes through Baghdad. Other officials believed that when Iraq lost its patronage, it would weaken the Palestinian military in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. From a realist point of view, the presence of the U.S. in Iraq would pressurize the Syrian government; an enemy of both Israel and the U.S. The U.S. would also use its Iraqi bases after the war to pressurize Iran to stop its nuclear power production. In general, the Iraq invasion would help the U.S. to project power in Asia and beyond and, therefore, have the power to control hostile governments.

The senior Bush and the junior Bush administrations had helped Saddam’s regime by the supply of loans, weapons and military intelligence. High ranking officials in the Bush administration had also supported Saddam’s dictatorship as private executives. It is, therefore, possible that they supported the Iraq war, so as to erase any evidence for their moral ambiguity and damage to their political careers (Bamford, 2004). In 1993, the U.S. alleged that Iraq had threatened to assassinate President Bush and launched serious missile attacks on Iraq with support from Britain and France. Although it might sound unrealistic to start a war because of diversionary purposes, it cannot be ruled out.

The Sanction

The UN Security Council asked Iraq to withdraw from the Gulf War and subsequently placed sanctions on the country. It was not allowed to conduct any form of trade with other countries. On August 7, 1991, the U.S. troops moved to protect Saudi oil fields in Saudi Arabia. Bamford (2004) alleges that the U.S. had a keen interest on protecting the oil fields so that they could not be exploited by other countries. The trade sanctions on Iraq mainly emphasized on military related good, which made it difficult for Iraq to engage in war. The U.S., therefore, aimed at suppressing the military and economic abilities of Iraq so that it could dominate the region.

Although the coalition forces were victorious in the first Gulf war, Iraq and Kuwait suffered major damages. Furthermore, Saddam was never toppled from power. As a matter of fact, he had ample time to concentrate on suppressing Kurd and Shiite revolts. Iraq agreed on the peace terms but the Iraqis did everything in their power to frustrate the implementation process, especially for the weapons inspection by UN.

UN Relations

The reputational motive of the Bush administration could also be the main reason why the U.S. rejected the continuation of the UN inspection of weapons in Iraq. Iraq had accepted to allow international inspectors to perform an inspection in 2002 but the US rejected the move. If the US intensions to discover the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were genuine, it would have cooperated with the UN. Instead, it asked for more time to complete its mission. This non-cooperation was counter-productive. According to the UN, Iraq was required to withdraw from Kuwait by Jan 15, 1991. However, Saddam refused to comply with the UN request, leading to the launch of Operation Desert Storm on January 18, 1991. This operation was led by General Norman Schwarzkopf from the US.

Liberalism could also be used to explain the causes of war. This theory alleges that the reason to go to war results from the international characteristics of a state, mainly the type of government (Russett, 1993). Global security is determined by the spread of trade and democracy as well as the conflict resolution strategies of international institutions. Even though mature democracies do not have conflicts between themselves, they are likely to fight against non-democracies. The greatest fear is that since non-democracies do not have governmental checks on the use of force, they are likely to threaten democracies by attacking first. Since democracies anticipate that the dictatorships can use deception to attack, they become aggressively prone to war. In this regard, the U.S. might have invaded Iraq because of the fear of being attacked first. The U.S. might have felt that Iraq could deceive the UN security inspectors and deployed weapons of mass destruction on the U.S.

To understand the liberal theory better, one could ask counterfactual questions such as whether the U.S. would have attacked Iraq if it was a democracy. The most likely answer would be no because mature democracies do not fight one another. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the public would have supported the invasion if Iraq was not a dictatorship. The primary reason for ending Saddam’s regime was to stop the human rights abuses and alleviate the suffering in Iraq. It is alleged that Bush read about human rights abuses in Iraq and it was such reports that gave him the reason to invade Iraq (Schweizer, 2004). However, there were no large scale human rights abuses committed in Iraq at that time.

Personal psychology could also have led to the war. For instance, when Bush visited Israel, he stated that the trip was a meaningful experience to him. His Christian ideology together with the sympathy from his close allies might have made America to invade Iraq to protect the Holy land of Israel from its enemies. Since Arabs are perceived to be against Christian ideologies, the U.S. tried to protect the Christian territory (Lynch, 2003).

The Second Gulf War

This is also referred to as the Iraq war. It was mainly an attack on Iraq by the Britain and U.S. governments. One of the reasons for the war was because Iraq did not fully comply with the peace treaty, signed at the end of the First Gulf War. When President Bush was elected in 1998, most of his father’s allies who wanted to end Saddam’s regime returned to power. The U.S. implemented the doctrine of first-strike after the 9/11 attacks (Eckert, 2008). The Bush administration accused Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the evil states that supported terrorism.

Critical Outcomes

Rumsfeld promoted the ideal of military transformation that depended on special operations. From this point of view, the U.S. might have invaded Iraq to enhance its fighting resources and implement the transformational agenda proposed by Rumsfeld. Bureaucratic incentives could also arise from the preference for offensive strategies, rather than the defensive ones. It was burdensome for the U.S. military to implement the no-fly zone in areas that were vulnerable to attack from Iraq. Since the Bush administration was determined to attack Iraq, the CIA could not object to the executives’ aspirations, even when they knew that the decision was wrong.

Vested interest theories demonstrate how political and corporate interests motivate politicians to fancy military wars. From this perspective, the U.S. favored the war because of its energy interest and financial interest for its corporations and administration. The U.S. would also benefit from reconstruction expenses in Iraq that would cost billions of dollars. Most of these privatization programs would be awarded in forms of contracts that would benefit private corporations that supported the Bush administration. Administrative officials also had their personal financial benefits in the construction, energy and defense sectors (Mayer, 2004).

War on Terror (September 11)

From the realism point of view, the motive of the Bush administration was to enhance the U.S. reputation for its ability to use force unilaterally, especially after the September 11 events. There were concerns that the U.S. was vulnerable to terror attacks and the U.S. intended to dispute these concerns by demonstrating to the world that it had the power to protect its boundaries. The forestalling of the completion of the inspections by the UN can be considered as a calculation of security interests by the U.S. (Russett, 1993).

The liberal motives for the attack on Iraq are supported by the liberal priorities of President Bush during his campaign in 2000. He promised to strengthen nation building but his promises were broken with the 9/11 attacks. This augmented the rationale for security, leading to a forceful implant of democracy in the Iraq and the Middle East in general. The 9/11 attacks gave the Bush administration a reason to use power to attack the dictatorship government in Iraq with an expectation to control the region.

The interest of the elite might also have been a cause of the war. This theory focuses on the interests of the sub-state; especially the economic and political elites affect the decisions, made during wars. For instance, a Marxist perspective considers that wars are caused by the bourgeoisie so as to control the new markets by deflecting socioeconomic pressures from the rivals (Woodward, 2004). The diversionary theory of war works in the sense that an illegitimate regime considers an external enemy to be a useful political tool and may start up a war as a way of self legitimization and to suppress domestic divisions. From this perspective, since Bush lacked the legitimacy of his political victory, he took the 9/11 attacks as an opportunity to legitimize his mantle and invade Iraq to look for political support.

Since the commitment of citizens to the security of their state is heightened by their responses to the national threats, the sentiments from war act in favor of the party in power as long as the nation seems protected. The Iraq war was, therefore, an expectation by the Republican Party to benefit from the American support of the U.S. flag. War could also be used to defect media, and public opposition from the current administration. The Bush administration was, therefore, trying to protect itself from the opposition on its failure to protect the country from the 9/11 attacks. Bush had also spend much money in search of Osama Bin Laden but failed. The Iraq war was, therefore, meant to favor the elite’s interest by distracting public attention from Bush’s failure to capture Osama.

Ideological and irrational influences from the administrative decision makers could also have led to the war. On many occasions, American presidents have managed to gain support for national security policies they come up with. The advisors of President Bush were mainly people from the senior Bush administration and might have other motives for acknowledging the war. For instance, vengeful sentiments might have affected the decision to invade Iraq.


As it has been demonstrated by the discussion, every theoretical perspective can account for the war between Iraq and the U.S. Distinguishing the different theories may help people to look at the war in a more critical manner. It also helps to provide a link between the theories and the occurrences of the invasion. It is clear that the U.S. was a good friend of Iraq and the Saddam regime in particular. It supported Iraq with technological resources and loans. However, things changed along the way and the two states became enemies. Most theorists link the war to oil resources and political supremacy.

From the theoretical perspectives, it can be stated that the U.S. was mainly aimed at protecting its hegemonic aspirations and, therefore, went for the weaker state, where it was sure of victory. President Bush also wanted to cover up for his failure to protect the American territory, leading to the 9/11 events. The anticipated personal and political benefits of the invasion were additional benefits linked to the war. Ultimately, the invasion could be avoided.

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