The Australian War Memorial is marking the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq with a preview of one of the centrepieces to its new galleries, a F/A-18 ‘Classic’ Hornet fighter. On 20 March 2003, a combined force of American, British and Australian troops under US leadership invaded Iraq in what was termed “the Second Gulf War”.
“Our new galleries will tell the story of Iraq in all of its complexity. We will acknowledge the courage and skill of the Australian service men and women who were deployed into harm’s way,” Memorial Director Matt Anderson said. “This anniversary, it is important to acknowledge the contribution of Australians who took part, and acknowledge the families who love and continue to support them.”
The US-led objective was to locate and destroy suspected weapons of mass destruction. The small, effective team of Australian Army, Air Force, and Navy assisted the operation. Within three weeks coalition forces had seized Baghdad, and Iraq’s President, Saddam Hussein, had been overthrown. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found.
Fourteen F/A-18 Hornet aircraft from 75 Squadron RAAF played a significant role in the war in Iraq. “One of these F/A-18 Hornet aircraft will be a centrepiece of the new Iraq War gallery,” Lead Curator Dr Kerry Neale said.
At the height of the war, the Hornets were also used to attack Iraqi ground forces with laser-guided bombs. Targets included tanks, trucks and artillery, as well as bunkers and storage areas for fuel and ammunition. As Iraqi resistance crumbled, the Hornets also flew close air-support missions to assist Australian and other troops on the ground.
Inside the new galleries, in addition to the fighter jet, will be a sealed tin of red paint, paint stained Dunlop shoes, and a snow globe – all part of a famous protest. “The Memorial’s collection also consists of anti-war material in the collection, dating back from as early as the First World War, through to recent conflicts,” Dr Neale said. “Many will remember one of the most iconic anti-war protests, when the Sydney Opera House was scaled by protestors and No War was painted on its famous sails. This happened on 18 March, two days before the invasion of Iraq even began.”
Anderson said: “Putting these items on display together at the Australian War Memorial is a powerful reminder that, in any healthy democracy, decisions to go to war and our community’s determined desire for peace are always interconnected.”