Although 16 years have passed since a coalition led by the U.S. and the U.K. invaded Iraq on the pretext Saddam Hussein's had biological weapons, the traces of war are still fresh in the war-ravished country.
The Iraqi people, who were fed up with 13- year-long sanctions prior to the invasion, were promised "democracy" and "stability", hence the operation was titled "Operation Iraqi Freedom".
However, sectarian conflicts and acts of terrorism that emerged after the invasion led to the death of tens of thousands of civilians, and the spending of billions of dollars. It also triggered an environment in which the terror group Daesh emerged.
With a view to getting the support of other countries to invade Iraq, Washington and London claimed Saddam developed nuclear weapons that could be used as weapons of mass destruction.
"There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more," former U.S. State Secretary Colin Powell said Feb. 5, 2003, at the UN Security Council (UNSC).
U.S. President George W. Bush, between 2001-2003, sought to justify the invasion by preparing reports regarding Baghdad's possession of weapons of mass destructions.
Contrary to the allegations, UN investigators in Iraq did not find any traces of biological weapons. Then, the U.K and the U.S. invaded without the approval of the UNSC, violating the international laws.
On March 17, 2003, Bush gave 48 hours to Saddam and his family to leave Iraq and said he would take military action if they did not exit the county. On March 19, coalition forces announced the commencement of the operation.
Military forces in Iraq gained control Baghdad on April 9 and toppled the statue of Saddam located in Firdos Square. Meanwhile, Saddam had reportedly escaped Baghdad. On May 1, Bush stated the majority of the warfare in Iraq was finished.
While the operations were ongoing, the UNSC adopted a resolution recognizing the invasion right of the U.S and the U.K on May 22. Hussein was captured Dec. 13, 2003, while hiding underground in Tikrit, northwest of Baghdad. Meanwhile, many of Hussein's family and high-profile members of the Baath regime fled to Jordan.
On April 2004, prisoners tortured by the U.S. forces in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad were covered by the global media, unveiling the truth about the damage and chaos Iraqis suffered.
On Jun. 28, 2004, the U.S. abolished the temporary administration and Paul Bremer, who led the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), left Iraq.
The first general elections were held Jan. 30, 2005, which was boycotted by the Sunni Arabs of Iraq. Shia Arabs in the country captured the government and Jalal Talabani became the first Kurdish president of Iraq.
In 2005, the federal structure was adopted in Iraq and Kurds were given "Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government" (KRG).
Sectarianism, which was triggered following the invasion, soon transformed into a civil war. The turning point of the sectarian civil war began Jan. 22, 2006, when the Al-Askari Shrine in Samarra -- one of the holiest sites for Shia sect -- was bombed.
Afterward, Nouri al-Maliki, who is known for his sectarian policies, announced he formed the government May 20, 2006.
After being tried for some three years, Hussein was executed Dec. 30, 2006.
On Jan 10, 2007, Washington announced it would send an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq where the violence continued with momentum. On Feb. 27, 2009, President Barrack Obama said U.S. troops would withdraw from Iraq by late 2011.
British troops left Iraq May 22, 2011 and U.S. troops left Dec. 18 same year.
During Maliki's eight-year term, the country turned into a bloodbath with terror attacks and sectarian conflicts. Therefore, war-weary Iraqis fled to other countries.
According to "Iraqcountybody", an independent organization studying Iraqi Health Ministry's data, more than 100,000 civilians were killed between 2003-2011 due to conflict-related reasons. The same organization said the civilian death toll reached 200,000 in 2018.
Taxi driver Abdulwahed Ebrahim, 67, who was living in Baghdad when the sectarian tension peaked, said: "Sectarianism and sectarian war occurred with the arrival of the U.S. Haifa street [in Baghdad] was called 'death street' back then. I lost my son Omar to the sectarian war."
He said Iraqis could only enjoy relief after the U.S. troops left the country. But he added, "there is no stability in the country."
Dilemma of "invasion" and "liberation"
Mostafa Mohammed Hashem, an Iraqi living in Baghdad, said: "March 20 is equal to the date of destruction and invasion. I lost many people I knew to the sectarian war. Our social and economic life was disrupted,” he said. “The invasion brought nothing but war, sectarianism and damage."
Iraqi political analysist Ali Suhayl said the U.S. claimed it would bring democracy and freedom to Iraq following the toppling of Saddam Hussein regime.
"Nevertheless, that never happened. There is no such thing as freedom in Iraq now. The U.S. brought a false democracy. Dominant parties of Iraq [referring to Shia] can easily manipulate the election," he stated.
"Plundering and collapsed system"
Murad Zeya, 40, an interpreter living in Turkey, said: "I was in Iraq on April 14, 2003, a short while after the fall of Baghdad. There was literally no system in the country, it was total chaos with no policemen or any state officials around to provide security."
"On 15th, when I entered Kirkuk, there was this nice April rain and lovely trees around. But I could see some buildings burning as a result of plundering around in the city."
Suheyr Zeya, 36, Murad's wife, said the instability in the country peaked following the U.S. invasion. "Men would wait on the streets and women would protect their houses against any possible plundering, which was the result of the fall of central administration."
Daesh terror and 5 million internally displaced Iraqis
In May 2014, the second Shia administration assumed power. Haider al-Abadi, known for his moderate views compared to Maliki, was elected prime minister.
"Daesh occupation" and "financial crisis" were among the most challenging troubles the fresh premier faced.
Terror groups in Iraq thrived due to the chaos, corruption and sectarian policies in the country. Daesh terror group quickly spread in the regions where Sunni Muslims were the majority. Daesh seized Mosul, Iraq's second largest province, without encountering any resistance Jun. 10, 2014.
Daesh gained dominance in one-third of Iraq, having a superior presence in Mosul, Anbar, Saladin and some parts of Diyala and Kirkuk.
Backed by the U.S.-led coalition, Iraqi forces recaptured Tikrit. In 2016, Iraqi forces gained control in Anbar's Fallujah.
The battle in Mosul was more challenging, it took nine months for the Iraqi authorities to take it back from Daesh terrorists. However, Mosul turned into a "ghost city" following intense clashes.
On Dec. 18, 2017, Abadi announced Daesh presence in Iraq was eradicated. Some five million Iraqis became internally displaced people. The cost of destruction in Mosul, Anbar and Saladin amounted to some $80 billion. Furthermore, tens of thousands of civilians lost their lives due to Daesh atrocities.
Iraq on the verge of division
While Iraq was ravaged by terrorism, Masoud Barzani, the former president of Kurdish Regional Government, sought to draw apart from the central administration via "independence referendum" held Sept. 25, 2017.
Iraqi government shifted military forces to Kirkuk and controversial territories, then the peshmerga presence in Kirkuk ceased to exist after 14 years.
Isolated following the political developments, Barzani announced he was stepping down from the presidency of KRG on Oct. 29.
5,200 US troops in Iraq
Despite Obama’s withdrawal decision in late 2011, the U.S. army returned to Iraq in 2014 as Iraqi forces and peshmerga struggled to fight Daesh.
According to a statement by the U.S. Department of Defense in December 2017, Washington has 5,200 troops in Iraq. These troops mostly operate as military consultants and do not engage in conflicts.
* Ali Murat Alhas wrote and contributed to this story from Ankara.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.