Operation TELIC was the codename for the British deployment in Iraq that began with the invasion of 2003. Following the end of major combat operations in April 2003, they were tasked with helping to restore essential infrastructure and services and provide security.
All photographs taken by WO2 Giles Penfound, Army Media Operations, during Operation TELIC. Crown Copyright.
British forces were largely based in the south of the country, mainly in Basra. A small number were also based in Baghdad and around the country to liaise and co-ordinate with coalition and Iraqi forces.
Although the southern region was regarded as being more peaceful than the capital, a sudden upsurge in violence put British forces back in the firing line.
Basra followed Baghdad into a pattern of sectarian strife, killings, bomb attacks and rivalry between religious factions. Different groups vied for influence in the police and organs of government. British forces were routinely mortared in their bases, and often subjected to bomb or sniping attacks from militias when on patrol. By the end of operations in July 2009, 179 British Armed Forces personnel had been killed since the start of the campaign in March 2003.
British forces in Iraq were a part of the United-States-led Multi-National Force - Iraq (or MNF-I). MNF-I had a mandate from the United Nations. Its mission, in partnership with the Iraqi government, was to combat former regime extremists and terrorists, and to organise, train and equip Iraqi security forces.
As well undertaking security duties, British soldiers helped restore essential infrastructure and services. They worked alongside Iraqi officials to re-establish water and fuel supplies and to co-ordinate the refurbishment of hospitals, clinics and schools in the southern provinces.
The invasion of Iraq began on 20 March 2003, after the expiry of an American ultimatum for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq. Saddam's refusal to co-operate with United Nations (UN) weapons inspectors and his alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) had formed the main justification for the action. Inspectors later concluded that Iraq had no WMD stockpiles.
An early objective for the coalition was to seize the Al Faw peninsula, to secure access to Umm Qasr port. Coalition forces, led by 40 and 42 Royal Marine Commandos, launched an amphibious assault, using helicopters and landing craft, supported by three Royal Navy frigates providing fire support.
The securing of Al Faw and the Rumaylah oilfields was a key early success for the coalition, allowing their forces to press north. It was important to prevent Iraqi forces using Basra, Iraq's second largest city, as a base for attacks on coalition lines of communication. Within four days British troops had taken Basra's airport, despite encountering significant Iraqi resistance. They soon began expanding their area of control in the surrounding region.
By 6 April 2003, British Commanders judged that conditions were right to enter Basra itself in strength. They launched assaults from three directions, encountering only patchy resistance, and stormed the Ba'ath Party headquarters. British troops were initially welcomed by locals, and although there was some looting, the city soon began to return to normal. British officers quickly established contact with local leaders and assisted in restoring a functioning police force. The first joint UK-Iraqi police patrols took place a week after the city was captured.
British control of south-east Iraq helped US troops to push towards Baghdad. Within four days of the start of the operation the US Army was at An Najaf, some 95 kilometres (60 miles) from Baghdad, while US Marines were pressing north along a different route towards Al Kut.
After several days of consolidating their position while attacking Iraqi forces with artillery and aircraft, US forces engaged the Republican Guard divisions around Baghdad. By 4 April 2003 they had seized the city outskirts, including the airport.
By 8 April, US troops had secured the city approaches. The following day, crowds gathered in the centre of the city to welcome coalition forces and destroy symbols of the old regime.
By now the west and north of Iraq had largely been secured, and a few days later the northern cities of Tikrit, Mosul and Kirkuk fell to coalition troops.
Many Iraqis seized the chance to plunder ministries, palaces, houses, offices, museums, schools and hospitals. Lawlessness wreaked havoc in many neighbourhoods and coalition forces were criticised for not doing enough to maintain order in the newly captured cities.
The US announced that major combat operations were over in Iraq in May 2003, but unrest continued. Almost immediately after the capture of Baghdad a violent insurgency began. Initially centred on the 'Sunni Triangle' around the capital, Fallujah and Tikrit, the uprising eventually spread to Najaf, al-Kut, Nasiriyah and Basra. Among the groups involved were former Baathists, nationalists, Sunni Muslims, supporters of the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and foreign Islamists.
Large-scale battles took place between the coalition and insurgents. The Shiite uprising of Spring 2004, led by Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, captured parts of Baghdad, Najaf, Kufa, Nasiriyah, Amarah and Basra. Over the next three months, more than 1,500 Mahdi Army militiamen, several hundred civilians and dozens of coalition soldiers were killed as the Americans and their allies gradually took back the cities.
Another major operation was the US and Iraqi assault on the militant stronghold of Fallujah in November 2004. Over 50 US soldiers were killed and several hundred wounded. As many as 2,000 insurgents may have been killed. Reports also suggest a heavy toll among civilians in the city.
Most engagements with the insurgents were on a much smaller scale, reflecting the nature of what was a bitter low-intensity war. The tactics used by the militants varied. Some used car bombs, kidnappings, hostage-taking, suicide bombings, shootings and other types of attack against Iraqi 'collaborators' and coalition forces with little regard for civilian casualties. Other groups claimed to restrict their attacks to the 'occupying' forces and avoided the targeting of civilians.
Guerrilla operations against coalition targets took the form of attacks on convoys using mines or improvised explosive devices (IED). These were often hidden behind roadside rails, on telephone poles, buried in the ground or in piles of rubbish.
British and American soldiers were also ambushed by fighters using machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Soft-skinned vehicles were a favourite target. Sniping also caused coalition casualties.
Mortar or rocket attacks were also carried out against coalition bases or those buildings associated with the Iraqi government or a foreign presence. Insurgents would fire a few mortar rounds or rockets and then try to escape.
One of the insurgents' most terrifying weapons was the suicide car bomb that was deliberately driven at coalition vehicles and soldiers.
Although Iraq's first democratic elections in decades (held in December 2005) were a success, the transition to a stable Iraqi government was difficult. Originally, the insurgents targeted coalition forces, but the violence became increasingly sectarian. Insurgent attacks on Shia targets and killings blamed on Shia death squads formed a cycle of revenge and reprisal. Fears of an Iraqi civil war grew by the day, but eventually the security situation was stabilised and reconstruction continued. Basra was eventually returned to Iraqi control in 2007 and the withdrawal of British troops began, although sporadic attacks against civilians and coalition forces continued.