Spokesman Scott McClellan told journalists on Tuesday that it was the media who chose to use the word 'imminent' and not the administration.

"We used 'grave and gathering' threat", McClellan said.

But if US President George Bush never called Iraq an "imminent threat" in so many words, he said it was "urgent," Vice President Dick Cheney called it "mortal" and it was "immediate" to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

In denial

In a 7 October 2002 televised speech to the nation, Bush likened the standoff with Iraq to the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis - when Soviet missiles were revealed to be based just 90 miles off US shores.

In that same speech, he warned that Saddam Hussein "could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists" like the al-Qaida network.

CNN television:

"Is he [Saddam Hussein] an imminent threat to US interests, either in that part of the world or to Americans right here at home?"

White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett:

"Well, of course he is"

"No terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq," Rumsfeld testified to lawmakers in September 2002.

Other senior Bush aides shied away from using the word "imminent" but agreed with that characterisation in exchanges with reporters.

Forgetful

On 26 January 2003, CNN television asked White House communications director Dan Bartlett "is he (Saddam) an imminent threat to US interests, either in that part of the world or to Americans right here at home?"

"Well, of course he is," Bartlett replied.

On 7 May 2003, a reporter asked then White House spokesman Ari Fleischer: "We went to war, didn't we, to find these [WMD] - because we said that these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States? Isn't that true?"

"Absolutely. One of the reasons that we went to war was because of their possession of weapons of mass destruction. And nothing has changed on that front at all," the spokesman replied.

"Another way to look at this is if Saddam Hussein holds a gun to your head even while he denies that he actually owns a gun, how safe should you feel?" Fleischer told reporters on 9 October 2002.