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Iraq War -- Bush Iraq War Justification Timeline

The Bush Administration's Changing Iraq War Justifications

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Marine Patrols in Iraq

Did the U.S. Military Prevent Terrorism, or Cause it, in Iraq?

courtesy of James McCauley (cc)

President Bush's Iraq War justifications have changed several times since the invasion in 2003. Here, see how the reasons for keeping the US at war in Iraq have shifted from year to year.

2003: Iraq Has WMDs and links to Al Qaeda

The Bush Administration justified the war—and the American public accepted that justification—on the grounds that Iraq posed a terrorist threat to the U.S. These justifications included:

  • Potential connections between Al Qaeda, the author of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
  • The possibility that Hussein was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction that might fall into the hands of terrorists.
  • The safe haven Hussein gave to some terrorist organizations, such as that of Abu Nidal, who died in mysterious circumstances in Baghdad, in 2002.

Over time, it has become clear that none of these justifications were quite true when the war started.

Read more on Iraq as a terrorist threat

2003-2005: Insurgents against the US Occupation Were Foreign Terrorists

As the first explanation connecting the Iraq War and terrorism was proved untrue, another was given by the Bush Administration: that an insurgency against the Americans that began in the summer of 2003 led by foreign jihadists from neighboring countries, such as Syria and Saudi Arabia. Jordanian Abu Musab Al Zarqawi (since killed by the United States) was frequently associated with Al Qaeda and put forth as the driving force behind the Sunni insurgency.

Conclusive answers about how many foreign fighters were active in Iraq were difficult to come by. There were certainly some foreign fighters crossing the border into Iraq. But it was improbable that these fighters were the basis for insurgency in Baghdad. The roots of violence against Americans was local. The escalation of the violence was related to American military and policy missteps along the way.

Read more on Al Qaeda's offshoot in Iraq: Al Qaeda in Iraq

2006: Bush Administration Still Calls Iraq Part of Terror War; Others Say it is a Civil War

By the end of 2006, the relationship between the Iraq War and the war on terror had become a messy affair: on the ground, in American rhetoric, among American politicians, and in the military budget.

Military leadership and troops on the ground had begun to label conflict a 'civil war' between Sunnis and Shiites by August, 2006. At nearly the same time, however, a classified military report on the situation in Iraq's Anbar province described it as hopelessly overrun by the insurgent group, "Al Qaeda in Iraq."

Congressional hopefuls queued up before the November 2006 elections to debate Iraq war troop withdrawal. Democrats argued that the Iraq war is a civil war between Iraqis (therefore, the U.S. should get out). Republicans said that good Iraqis and Americans were battling 'bad' (insurgent) Iraqis and terrorists (in which case, the U.S. must stay).

Confusingly,Democrats also argued that the Iraq war was causing more jihadist activity in Iraq. A declassified National Intelligence Estimate report appeared to support this claim.

The Democratic win, and the resignation of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld shortly afterward suggested there might be some disentangling of the Iraq War from "war on terror" efforts.

In early December, 2006, the Iraq Study Group released recommendations, suggesting that Al Qaeda terrorism was only one of many problems in Iraq, rather than the main problem.

Read more on Democratic and Republican Views on Iraq Troop Withdrawal | The Declassified NIE Report

2007: A New Justification--Iran is Sponsoring Terrorism in Iraq

The first few months of 2007 provided no further clarity on terrorism in Iraq.

President Bush continued to claim that Iraq is the lynchpin of a global war against terror. Two speeches early in the year, one on Iraq policy and a second, the State of the Union address, reflected the Administration's position.

The government also began to report Iran as a terrorist culpritin Iraq. These claims provide a new way of calling Iraq a terror war front, since Iran is a designated state sponsor of terrorism.

Seeing the reality of Iraq and terrorism clearly is nearly impossible even for the most clear-eyed of viewers, at this point. The language of the "war on terror" shapes a rhetorical reality about Iraq that may not be useful. At the same time, Iraq's reality is one in which there are multiple actors in shifting relationships, with a variety of motives.

Read more on President Bush's 2007 Iraq policy speech | 2007 State of the Union Address | Iran, Iraq and the United States

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