To this day, Mohsin, 46, who fled Iraq and found refuge in Australia, said he still doesn’t understand what happened to his country.
Mohsin fled his home country 18 years ago as the war raged, feeling he had no choice but to leave because life was not getting better despite US forces ousting Mr Hussein.
Iraq’s former president Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003, and executed three years later after being convicted of crimes against humanity by the Iraqi Special Tribunal. Source: AAP, AP / Darko Bandic
“[The US] said they were going to come and fix the country, but it turns out, no. Rebel groups and the US military were killing people, they were shooting people. Anybody who approached them risked being killed,” he said.
US marines near a burning oil well at the al-Ratka oilfield in southern Iraq in March 2003. Iraqi troops set fire to the oilfield as they fled from coalition forces advancing on Baghdad. Source: Getty, AFP / Odd Andersen
Mohsin believed life would return to normal after a couple of months, but that was not the case.
“I try to forget the experience that I had … If Iraq improved by a million times today, it would still not be good enough and I will never return there. All I can think about is the experience that I had. And I don’t want to remember it,” he said.
What sparked the invasion?
“The real fear in the US at that time was that a state like Iraq might have weapons of mass destruction and that it might be harbouring terrorists,” Professor Isakhan said.
Mourners carry the body of Iraqi Shamil Nafe, 30, along the streets of Baghdad’s Adhamiya area during his funeral procession, in December, 2003. He was killed by the US forces when a demonstration supporting captured former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein took place and ended with clashes with troops. Source: AAP, AP / Muhammed Muheisen
Prior to announcing the invasion, Mr Bush claimed that US intelligence had found that Iraq had “some of the most lethal weapons ever devised”, and that it “harboured terrorists, including operatives of al-Qaeda” — who had coordinated the September 11 attacks.
David Kay, then-head of the CIA’s Iraq Survey Group (ISG), said in October 2003 that no weapons of this type had been discovered.
Claims Mr Hussein had formal links with al-Qaeda, which were used as justification for the invasion, were also being questioned. In 2006, a declassified US Senate report revealed there was no evidence of this.
‘Who could feel happy about a foreign flag being flown in their homeland?’
He was met with heavy weeping by his father, who had narrowly escaped death row under Mr Hussein’s rule.
Basim Alansari. Source: Supplied
When Basim thought his dad’s unusual crying was due to happiness, he said his dad screamed at him.
Al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, who was killed by US forces in 2006, started waging bloody attacks designed to turn majority Shi’ite Muslims against minority Sunnis in a civil war. It eventually transpired and engulfed Iraq from 2006 to 2008.
Basim Alansari (centre) and his two brothers in Iraq before they travelled to Australia. Source: Supplied
Huge protests in Australia and around the world
Between six and 10 million people demonstrated across the world on 15 and 16 February, 2003, according to a BBC report at the time. Some have labelled it the largest single coordinated protest in history, with the Guinness World Records recognising Italy as having the biggest anti-war turnout at three million people.
He recalled his parents explaining that they were going to the demonstration because what was happening was “unfair”.
Mohammad Awad attended the anti-war rally in Sydney as a young boy. Source: Supplied / Mohammad Awad
“It was our first education on imperialism and everything going on in the Middle East; why American intervention never works, all that sort of stuff,” Mr Awad, now 23, said.
“I had never been to a protest before, I had never seen such a big demonstration of people before.”
Protesters in Sydney called for no war in Iraq on 16 February, 2003. Source: AAP, AP / Dan Peled
Many prominent Australians were also vocal in their opposition to the war, with the late Heath Ledger joining fellow actors Joel Edgerton, Naomi Watts, and thousands of others at a rally in Melbourne after the invasion was announced.
“He’s blindly following Bush, like a sheep, into a pit and who knows what the repercussions may be,″ Collette said at the time.
Heath Ledger (right) and Joel Edgerton at a protest in front of Victorian State Library in Melbourne on 20 March, 2003, following the announcement of the Iraq invasion. Source: AAP / Julian Smith
The war’s toll
In 2008, Mr Bush agreed to withdraw US troops from Iraq, a process that was completed under President Barack Obama in 2011. Source: AAP, AP / Anja Niedringhaus
When announcing the invasion, Mr Bush said the US would help “build new Iraq that is prosperous and free”.
He said “simple things” like providing exchange and scholarship programs for Iraqi students would go some way in helping achieve this.
*Name has been changed.