Monday, March 19, 2012

This Day in History: Mar 19, 2003: War in Iraq begins

On this day in 2003, the United States, along with coalition forces primarily from the United Kingdom, initiates war on Iraq. Just after explosions began to rock Baghdad, Iraq's capital, U.S. President George W. Bush announced in a televised address, "At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger." President Bush and his advisors built much of their case for war on the idea that Iraq, under dictator Saddam Hussein, possessed or was in the process of building weapons of mass destruction.

Hostilities began about 90 minutes after the U.S.-imposed deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq or face war passed. The first targets, which Bush said were "of military importance," were hit with Tomahawk cruise missiles from U.S. fighter-bombers and warships stationed in the Persian Gulf. In response to the attacks, Republic of Iraq radio in Baghdad announced, "the evil ones, the enemies of God, the homeland and humanity, have committed the stupidity of aggression against our homeland and people."

Though Saddam Hussein had declared in early March 2003 that, "it is without doubt that the faithful will be victorious against aggression," he went into hiding soon after the American invasion, speaking to his people only through an occasional audiotape. Coalition forces were able to topple his regime and capture Iraq's major cities in just three weeks, sustaining few casualties. President Bush declared the end of major combat operations on May 1, 2003. Despite the defeat of conventional military forces in Iraq, an insurgency has continued an intense guerrilla war in the nation in the years since military victory was announced, resulting in thousands of coalition military, insurgent and civilian deaths.
After an intense manhunt, U.S. soldiers found Saddam Hussein hiding in a six-to-eight-foot deep hole, nine miles outside his hometown of Tikrit. He did not resist and was uninjured during the arrest. A soldier at the scene described him as "a man resigned to his fate." Hussein was arrested and began trial for crimes against his people, including mass killings, in October 2005.

In June 2004, the provisional government in place since soon after Saddam's ouster transferred power to the Iraqi Interim Government. In January 2005, the Iraqi people elected a 275-member Iraqi National Assembly. A new constitution for the country was ratified that October. On November 6, 2006, Saddam Hussein was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by hanging. After an unsuccessful appeal, he was executed on December 30, 2006.
No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.

In South Africa: Thomas Thornton becomes the first passenger on an aeroplane in South Africa
Date: 19 March, 1910

Kimmerling, a Frenchman, made the first powered flight in South Africa in a Voisin Canard Seaplane. This flight took place in East London on 28 December 1909, over the Nahoon Racecourse.

At the end of February 1910, Kimmerling made three flights at Sydenham Hill, near Orange Grove in Johannesburg. On 19 March 1910, Thomas Thornton became the first person to fly on an aeroplane as a passenger when he paid Albert Kimmerling £100 for a short flight from Sydenham Hill.
On the same day, Rand reporter Julia Stansfield became the first female passenger to fly on a plane when Kimmerling took her on a flight over Johannesburg.
  1. Wallis, F. (2000). Nuusdagboek: feite en fratse oor 1000 jaar, Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau.
  2. History of Aviation in South Africa [online]. Available at: [accessed 11 March 2009]

Also in South Africa: Three people murdered at Eikenhof

Date: 19 March, 1993
Zandra Mitchley, her fourteen year old son, Shaun, and his friend, Claire Silberbauer, were murdered on the old Vereeniging road, near Eikenhof, south of Johannesburg, allegedly by Boy Titi Ndweni, Sipiwe James Bholo and Sipho Samuel Gavin, three African National Congress (ANC) activists. Judge David Curlewis found the three guilty of murder after they had been identified as the culprits during an identification parade and had made confessions of guilt to a police officer, though the accused pleaded their innocence and insisted that the confessions were false and had been extracted under torture. Sipiwe Bholo and Sipho Gavin were sentenced to death three times (later commuted to life sentences) while Boy Titi Ndweni was sentenced to seventeen years in jail.

During a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearing Pan African Congress (PAC) activist, Phila Dolo, claimed responsibility for the attack. In his amnesty application Dolo told the TRC that he supervised the operation in his capacity as commander in the Azanian People's Liberation Army, the armed wing of the PAC. After a lengthy campaign by the ANC and PAC to free the 'Eikenhof Three', they were released from Johannesburg prison in 1999, having spent five years in jail for a crime they had not committed. The head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Bulelani Ngcuka, decided not bring new charges against them.  

Wallis, F. (2000). Nuusdagboek: feite en fratse oor 1000 jaar, Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau.

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