The U.S. and its allies have justified the Iraq war, among other things, by citing the danger of weapons of mass destruction. According to wikipedia (emphasis mine)

the U.S. stated that the intent was to remove "a regime that developed and used weapons of mass destruction, that harbored and supported terrorists, committed outrageous human rights abuses, and defied the just demands of the United Nations and the world"

What was it that made them believe Iraq was holding WMD arsenals and/or was developing them?

Specially in consideration of the fact that no big amount of such weapons have ever been found. (This of course does not necessarily mean they do not exist, or that the suspicions where not justified).

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    I imagine such information would be classified Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 18:09
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    By the way, one of the more cute theories I heard of was that Saddam himself believed he had WMDs, and was posturing based on that; whereas people reporting to him were too scared to tell him the truth. Knowing how less-vital economics reporting worked in USSR, I'm quite willing to believe that theory to be plausible.
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 18:11
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    The question implies that important members of the Bush Administration honestly believed this or cared either way...
    – user117
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 20:38
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    For what it is worth, that evidence also convinced Congress (including many prominent Democrats) to vote for the war effort.
    – JohnFx
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 3:35
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    Iraq did develop WMDs and used them too. The question wasn't if he ever had them - that is a fact proven beyond any doubt - but if he destroyed them afterwards and dismantled programs aimed at their development after he was required to do so. The fate of many of the weapons Saddam was known to have is still unknown.
    – StasM
    Commented Feb 23, 2013 at 20:53

6 Answers 6

  1. Other things aside, Saddam HAD in the past developed and actually used (against Kurds in Iraq) chemical weapons.


    He also used them against Iran in Iraq-Iran war.

  2. Also, he either refused to abide by UNSCOM inspections or, when he pretended to let them in to ease off international pressure, would NOT grant them access to the most critical locations, or delayed them for long times with evidence that the locations were being "sanitized" before the inspectors arrived.

Also, people who had nothing to do with Bush Administration believed the same thing. A couple random quotes (please note that many predate Bush's election as President and can't even be blamed on "Bush told CIA to mislead every other dumb politician in USA and foreign leader" usual argument):

“Even today, Iraq is not nearly disarmed. Based on highly credible intelligence, UNSCOM [the U.N. weapons inspectors] suspects that Iraq still has biological agents like anthrax, botulinum toxin, and clostridium perfringens in sufficient quantity to fill several dozen bombs and ballistic missile warheads, as well as the means to continue manufacturing these deadly agents. Iraq probably retains several tons of the highly toxic VX substance, as well as sarin nerve gas and mustard gas. This agent is stored in artillery shells, bombs, and ballistic missile warheads. And Iraq retains significant dual-use industrial infrastructure that can be used to rapidly reconstitute large-scale chemical weapons production.” — Ex-Un Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter in 1998

“The community of nations may see more and more of the very kind of threat Iraq poses now: a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists. If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow.” — Bill Clinton in 1998

“Saddam’s goal … is to achieve the lifting of U.N. sanctions while retaining and enhancing Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs. We cannot, we must not and we will not let him succeed.” — Madeline Albright, 1998, Clinton's Secretary of State.

“(Saddam) will rebuild his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and some day, some way, I am certain he will use that arsenal again, as he has 10 times since 1983″ — Clinton's National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, Feb 18, 1998

“Iraq is not the only nation in the world to possess weapons of mass destruction, but it is the only nation with a leader who has used them against his own people.” — Tom Daschle in 1998

“As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I am keenly aware that the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons is an issue of grave importance to all nations. Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.” — Nancy Pelosi, December 16, 1998

“What is at stake is how to answer the potential threat Iraq represents with the risk of proliferation of WMD. Baghdad’s regime did use such weapons in the past. Today, a number of evidences may lead to think that, over the past four years, in the absence of international inspectors, this country has continued armament programs.” — Jacques Chirac, October 16, 2002

"I am absolutely convinced that there are weapons...I saw evidence back in 1998 when we would see the inspectors being barred from gaining entry into a warehouse for three hours with trucks rolling up and then moving those trucks out." -- Clinton's Secretary of Defense William Cohen in April of 2003

“[W]e urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.” — From a letter signed by Joe Lieberman, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara A. Milulski, Tom Daschle, & John Kerry among others on October 9, 1998

“This December will mark three years since United Nations inspectors last visited Iraq. There is no doubt that since that time, Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition, Saddam continues to refine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer- range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies.” — From a December 6, 2001 letter signed by Bob Graham, Joe Lieberman, Harold Ford, & Tom Lantos among others

“In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security.” — Hillary Clinton, October 10, 2002

“Whereas Iraq has consistently breached its cease-fire agreement between Iraq and the United States, entered into on March 3, 1991, by failing to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction program, and refusing to permit monitoring and verification by United Nations inspections; Whereas Iraq has developed weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological capabilities, and has made positive progress toward developing nuclear weapons capabilities” — From a joint resolution submitted by Tom Harkin and Arlen Specter on July 18, 2002

“Iraq made commitments after the Gulf War to completely dismantle all weapons of mass destruction, and unfortunately, Iraq has not lived up to its agreement.” — Barbara Boxer, November 8, 2002, one of the most liberal US Democratic Senators.

“The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998. We are confident that Saddam Hussein retained some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and that he has since embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological warfare capability. Intelligence reports also indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons, but has not yet achieved nuclear capability.” — Robert Byrd, October 2002

“There’s no question that Saddam Hussein is a threat… Yes, he has chemical and biological weapons. He’s had those for a long time. But the United States right now is on a very much different defensive posture than we were before September 11th of 2001… He is, as far as we know, actively pursuing nuclear capabilities, though he doesn’t have nuclear warheads yet. If he were to acquire nuclear weapons, I think our friends in the region would face greatly increased risks as would we.” — Wesley Clark on September 26, 2002

“Iraq does pose a serious threat to the stability of the Persian Gulf and we should organize an international coalition to eliminate his access to weapons of mass destruction. Iraq’s search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to completely deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power.” — Al Gore, 2002

“We are in possession of what I think to be compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein has, and has had for a number of years, a developing capacity for the production and storage of weapons of mass destruction.” — Bob Graham, December 2002

“We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction.” — Ted Kennedy, September 27, 2002

“I will be voting to give the president of the United States the authority to use force – if necessary – to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security.” — John F. Kerry, Oct 2002

“The threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real, but as I said, it is not new. It has been with us since the end of that war, and particularly in the last 4 years we know after Operation Desert Fox failed to force him to reaccept them, that he has continued to build those weapons. He has had a free hand for 4 years to reconstitute these weapons, allowing the world, during the interval, to lose the focus we had on weapons of mass destruction and the issue of proliferation.” — John Kerry, October 9, 2002

“Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Administration's policy towards Iraq, I don't think there can be any question about Saddam's conduct. He has systematically violated, over the course of the past 11 years, every significant UN resolution that has demanded that he disarm and destroy his chemical and biological weapons, and any nuclear capacity. This he has refused to do. He lies and cheats; he snubs the mandate and authority of international weapons inspectors; and he games the system to keep buying time against enforcement of the just and legitimate demands of the United Nations, the Security Council, the United States and our allies. Those are simply the facts.” — Henry Waxman, Oct 10, 2002

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    Being under Clinton does't automatically mean being right, far form it... Of course people from different backgrounds believing the same thing might make it more believable. But this then begs the question: why did they believe it?
    – Fela
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 18:14
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    @FelaWinkelmolen - it's very simple logic. You had a weapon before. You refuse to clearly prove you don't have it anymore. So a logical assumption is that you still have it.
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 18:20
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    Can't help but notice that only about 6% of this is actually addressing the question asked, with over 90% dedicated to backing up what seems to be an after-thought. If "because other people thought so too" is your primary answer, you might want to dedicate more space to explaining why and how that's relevant.
    – Shog9
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 20:16
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    Refusal to give foreign powers unlimited access to sensitive military installations is not limited to autocratic paranoid dictators.
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 21:03
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    @maple_shaft - there's a wee bit of difference between "Refusal to give foreign powers unlimited access to sensitive military installations" and "complying with UN Security Council demand to prove you have dismandled your WMDs as a result of offensive war you launched and lost". You can also refuse to wear location-tracking braceled if a cop asks you to... unless you were convicted and said bracelet is part of a sentence.
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 1:25

Saddam wasn't worried in those days about the United States. He was worried about Iran. He actually manufactured evidence to make Iran believe they had WMDs. Among other things, Saddam claimed after his capture that he lied to his generals that he did have WMDs. (Source) One can assume that some of the proof the United States had was related to this.

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    +1. The problem with being a puffer fish is that some predators evolve to eat puffer fish :) And no, I don't know if that's true, may make a good question for Biology.SE :)
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 3:27

As evidenced by UN Security Council Resolution 1441, the burden was on Iraq:

3. Decides that, in order to begin to comply with its disarmament obligations, in addition to submitting the required biannual declarations, the Government of Iraq shall provide to UNMOVIC, the IAEA, and the Council, not later than 30 days from the date of this resolution, a currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its programmes to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other delivery systems such as unmanned aerial vehicles and dispersal systems designed for use on aircraft, including any holdings and precise locations of such weapons, components, subcomponents, stocks of agents, and related material and equipment, the locations and work of its research, development and production facilities, as well as all other chemical, biological, and nuclear programmes, including any which it claims are for purposes not related to weapon production or material;

The resolution mentioned "serious consequences" if the conditions were not met:

13. Recalls, in that context, that the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations;

Maybe they meant they would write another letter, this time a really mean one.

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    ... or I shall taunt you a second time!!!
    – user4012
    Commented Feb 24, 2013 at 2:12
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    In diplomatic language "serious consequences" is basically of treat of war.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 13:27
  • @OlivierPucher Exactly. I think you missed the sarcasm in my last sentence. You might want to watch Hans Blix ... Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 13:42
  • It's up to them to prove compliance if they want to be freed from restriction, conditions and sanctions that were imposed upon them. The burden of proof, when claiming a "pre-emptive self-defense" invasion of a sovereign nation is, and always has been, on the nation that is invading. -1 for misleadingly conflating different situations. Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 16:01
  • How does this answer the question?
    – Daniel
    Commented Feb 11, 2023 at 22:20

It depends on what "is" is, really. Many people, including some answerers, seem to think that past pronunciations about suspicions are relevant to the Bush Administration assessment.

Let's be clear we are talking about two very different standards.

  1. After the first Gulf War, as a condition of military actions ceasing (i.e. Saddam not being thrown out entirely), Iraq agreed to be under sanctions, and those sanctions would not be lifted until Iraq disarmed and dismantled their WMD in a way that could be verified. Saddam wanted to be out from under the sanctions (while not personally inconvenient, it did harm his nation), but he didn't want to appear weaker to his enemies, like Syria and Iran (Shia ruling elites and Shia majority and rulers, respectively), particularly since the ruling Baathist party (his party, Sunni) was a minority party. So he played a cat and mouse game where we couldn't prove that he had weapons (because he didn't), but his enemies would have enough doubt to not test the waters. Stating his non-compliance with agreed-to verification would certainly be a reason for continuing economic sanctions and military restrictions (no-fly zone, for example), because those were in place until the agreed upon verification was obtained.

  2. The case for a military invasion, conquering and occupation of another universally recognized sovereign nation - a war of aggression, or pre-emptive invasion, is against International Laws. The Bush Administration claimed it was self-defense, as Iraq, with WMD, posed an imminent threat to other nations, including the USA.

Wikipedia: War of Aggression

Note the difference in claims - Iraq did not meet verification standards they agreed to for disarming vs Iraq poses an imminent and dangerous threat to the international community. A much stricter standard of proof and requirement of an affirmative case exists in the second instance that does not exist in the first case.

It is generally acknowledged that the standard was not met and that the USA knew they didn't have the evidence. Most of the disagreement now centers around whether the Bush Administration knew there would be no WMD, or whether they were so convinced the WMD existed that they figured no one would care if they fabricated their case, since they would have believed they would find ample proof, after the fact.

The Guardian: Iraq Invasion Violated International Law, Dutch Inquiry Finds


Massive construction program of command and control bunkers able to withstand USA non-nuclear munitions.

Toxic munitions used against Kurds in the north and populations in the south that had supported the Allies in the first war. Quantities far beyond what had been known to exist.

Interference with agreed to UN inspections.

Build up of combat troops along the Saudi border positioned so that oil and military infrastructure could be destroyed before Allies would be able to arrive.

Report from high ranking Iraqi that Sadaam was stock piling WMDs.

Past attempts by Sadaam to obtain nuclear munitions and meetings with high level North Korean officials.

Saudi request for Allied intervention due to fear of Iraqi WMDs.

Attempted assassination of former President George H. W. Bush. An action suggesting the capability to take on the U.S.A. military.

The result was the CIA deciding Sadaam must have finally obtained nuclear munitions. Normal intelligence fact checking was skipped due to a perceived urgency.

All of this probably only moved up military action. Sadaam signed his own execution order when he ordered the assassination attempt. Some members of Congress called for the removal of Sadaam by any means possible.

  • This answer could be improved by adding sources. (This roughly matches my memory of the news coverage back then, but...)
    – Hulk
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 4:24

Tapes, satellite photos, inspection reports and other similar evidence.

On February 4, 2003, Secretary of State, Colin Powell, presented a subset of the available evidence to the United Nations. Here is the full text of the presentation.

The following excerpt of the transcript gives a flavor of its content.

Iraq declared 8,500 liters of anthrax, but UNSCOM estimates that Saddam Hussein could have produced 25,000 liters. If concentrated into this dry form, this amount would be enough to fill tens upon tens upon tens of thousands of teaspoons. And Saddam Hussein has not verifiably accounted for even one teaspoon-full of this deadly material.

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    "...could have produced..." Should one regard this as evidence? A mere possibility? Also what does "Iraq declared..." mean? Does it imply there was an Iraqi confirmation of the existence of WMD? Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 10:23
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    Colin Powell, himself, admitted that they had no proof, and that his speech to the UN was a farce that he is embarrassed for having participated in. He admitted this 12 years before your post citing his presentation. How are you not aware of this? Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 16:07

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