Twenty years ago, U.S., British, and other allied forces invaded Iraq with the declared aim of destroying Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime.
No weapons of mass destruction were found, the collapse of Hussein’s regime fostered a violent insurgency, and U.S. forces remained fighting in Iraq until the end of 2011 (before re-engaging in 2014).
With more than 150,000 Iraqi civilians killed, some 17,000 fatal casualties among the post-Saddam Iraqi security forces, and nearly 5,000 U.S. and allied troop deaths, the invasion and its aftermath were bloody and unstable.
However, in April 2003, when the statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, the ensuing media coverage produced false hope about the U.S. occupation. This followed on from the extensive and overwhelmingly positive media coverage of the invasion enabled by the embedding of hundreds of journalists with the allied military.
Christopher Morris covered the invasion of Iraq, and Gary Knight and Peter Maass reported on the day in Firdos Square that came to symbolize the “success” of the operation. In this event, they discuss their experiences two decades ago, reflect on the impact of the media coverage, and consider the lessons that need to be drawn for reporting contemporary conflict.