In November 2002, after weeks of wrangling, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1441. It was designed to force Iraq to give up all weapons of mass destruction and threatening "serious consequences" if it did not comply. Iraq accepted the terms of the resolution and weapons inspections resumed.
In early February 2003, US Secretary of State Colin Powell told the UN that inspections were not achieving the disarmament of Iraq. The US and UK pressed for a new resolution authorising military action against Iraq. France and Russia opposed this resolution, and threatened to veto it.
The resolution never came to a vote and early on 20 March, the US-led campaign to topple Iraqi Saddam Hussein began.
President George W Bush addressed the American nation and vowed to "disarm Iraq and to free its people".
The beginning of the campaign drew a barrage of criticism from world leaders, including those of France, Russia and China. There were also massive public demonstrations against the war in major cities across the globe.
The first aerial attack on Baghdad was on a much smaller scale than had been expected for the opening of the conflict. It was thought to have been mounted at short notice when US military planners spotted an opportunity to target five members of the Iraqi regime, including Saddam Hussein and his sons, Uday and Qusay.
Ground forces invaded from Kuwait, with UK troops moving to secure key southern towns and US forces moving on towards Baghdad. They did, though, meet pockets of resistance from Iraqi troops.
As troops advanced on Baghdad, Saddam Hussein issued statements of defiance, while his officials warned that the capital would be their graveyard.
In early April, US forces reached the outskirts of Baghdad and took the international airport. Shortly after, the government of Saddam Hussein lost control over the capital. US tanks were able to drive unhindered into public squares in the centre of Baghdad and in a symbolic moment, an American armoured vehicle helped a crowd of cheering Iraqis pull down a huge statue of Saddam Hussein. The hunt was then on for the Iraqi leader, whose whereabouts remained a mystery.
President Bush declared an end to major combat operations on 1 May.