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Politics of Iraq

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A decade ago, the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq on the premise that the country was hiding weapons of mass destruction. Despite worldwide protest and a lack of UN authorization, 200,000 thousand troops deployed into Iraq in March of 2003, following massive airstrikes. The coalition faced minimal opposition, and Baghdad quickly fell. For years after President George W. Bush's "mission accomplished" speech, the war raged on, fueled by sectarian conflicts, al Qaeda insurgencies, outside agencies, and mismanagement of the occupation. Ten years later, we look back in a three-part series. Today's entry focuses on the March 20, 2003, invasion of Iraq, and the weeks immediately following. This entry is part 1 of 3, be sure to see part 2, and part 3. [50 photos]

Smoke covers Saddam Hussein's presidential palace compound during a massive US-led air raid on Baghdad, Iraq on March 21, 2003. Allied forces unleashed a devastating blitz on Baghdad, triggering giant fireballs and deafening explosions and sending huge mushroom clouds above the city center. Missiles slammed into the main palace complex of President Saddam Hussein on the bank of the Tigris River, and key government buildings. (Ramzi Haidar/AFP/Getty Images)

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With one month left until American troops are scheduled to completely withdraw from Iraq, the draw-down process is in full gear, but the future for a still-recovering, still-violent Iraq remains uncertain. Since coalition forces first invaded Iraq in March 2003, more than 4,400 Americans have lost their lives and some 32,000 have been wounded. Estimates of violent civilian deaths -- caused by warfare, insurgent attacks, inter-tribal conflict and more -- range into the hundreds of thousands. As the new Iraqi government still struggles to meet the needs of its citizens, it now faces the challenge of defending its borders in a very volatile region. Although all American troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011, the U.S. military will continue limited counterterrorism training with Iraqi forces beyond the end of the year, and about 16,000 U.S. embassy personnel will remain in Iraq -- many of them civilian contractors handling security. Collected here are recent images of Iraq -- its people, the U.S. draw-down, and some of the continuing aftermath of the war. [41 photos]

Sgt. 1st Class Justin Hathaway braves a sandstorm after leaving the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Iraq and U.S. Forces-Iraq Provost Marshal Office at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, on September 27, 2011. (Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo/USAF)

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