Bush's 'Axis of Evil' Speech Put Iraq on Notice
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 18, 2005 Saddam Hussein's regime was placed in the crosshairs of U.S. foreign policy on Jan. 29, 2002, when President Bush declared in his State of the Union address that Iraq was among an "axis of evil" group of states that sought weapons of mass destruction and sponsored terrorism.
Bush had also accused Iran and North Korea of developing WMDs while assisting terrorists during that speech, but he saved his harshest rhetoric for Saddam, noting Iraq continued "to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror."
Iran, Iraq, North Korea and their allies "constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world," Bush said during his speech.
And those countries, he noted, posed "a grave and growing danger" to peaceful nations of the world.
Bush said the United States would work with its allies to confront that threat. However, "time is not on our side," the president pointed out, noting he wouldn't "wait on events, while dangers gather."
Only months before, U.S. and coalition troops had attacked and routed al Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban sympathizers from havens in Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
Bush observed in his speech that many terrorists who'd previously operated from bases in Afghanistan "now occupy cells" at detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Yet, the war against global terrorism had "only begun," Bush reminded gathered senators, representatives and a nationwide television audience.
The campaign against global terrorists, Bush said, "may not be finished" during his term of office. Yet, "it must be and it will be waged on our watch."
After the president's 2002 State of the Union address, senior DoD leaders continued to object to Saddam's habit of having his air defense batteries shoot at U.S. and coalition aircraft patrolling the "no-fly" zones over northern and southern Iraq.
Yet, Pentagon concern over Saddam's activities existed long before that. For example, during a Jan. 23, 2001, news conference, a Pentagon spokesman expressed DoD's suspicion that Saddam was producing chemical and biological weapons at some rebuilt factories outside of Baghdad.
Navy Rear Adm. Craig R. Quigley acknowledged that DoD didn't know "exactly what is going on inside those facilities that we have seen." But senior DoD leaders, he noted, simply didn't trust the Iraqi dictator.
"Given his track record, it will remain a matter of concern for us," he said.
Saddam's government had promised to jettison its WMDs as part of the peace settlement that had ended the 1990-91 Gulf War. Yet, the Iraqi government stayed at loggerheads with the United States and the United Nations about the WMD issue. U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq were given a run-around when they'd show up to search for outlawed weapons.
By March 2003, Bush had lost patience. On March 17, he gave the dictator 48 hours to relinquish the leadership of Iraq.
When Saddam refused, U.S. and coalition forces attacked Iraq on March 19. The Iraqi forces were routed, and Baghdad fell to U.S. troops on April 9. The president declared May 1 that major combat operations in Iraq had concluded.
Although WMDs haven't been found in Iraq so far, some analysts speculate that Saddam spirited the weapons out of the country before hostilities commenced.
A stubborn insurgency consisting of Baath Party hardliners and foreign Islamic radicals continues to harass Iraqi, U.S. and coalition forces, and more Iraqi civilian casualties result from insurgents' actions.
Today, two years after start of coalition action, 26 million Iraqis freed from Saddam's tyranny now look toward a better future that they increasingly control.