On the evening of 9/11, George W Bush made a vow to the American public - that he would defeat terrorism.
Unknown to those listening in shock to the presidential address, the president and his advisers had already begun planning their trajectory into an invasion of Iraq. It was packaged as "holding responsible the states who support terrorism" by Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser between 2001 and 2003.
"I believe it represented a recognition that we would never succeed against the terrorists if we went after them one at a time and as long as governments were facilitating the organisation, training, equipping of, financing of terrorist organisations, we were never going to get it under control," says Perle.
After 100 days spent fighting those who had become publicly accepted as the culprits - Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan - the US set the ball rolling for war against Iraq.
On the evening of 9/11 the president is saying: well, maybe we'll be going after Iraq now and somebody said, well, that would be against international law. The president responded: I don't care, we're going to kick some ass.
Perle published an article in The New York Times damning Iraq, primarily for its "collaboration with terrorists" and for "convincing" evidence regarding its involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
By then, of course, advisers had already convinced President Bush of the need for an intervention in Iraq. Among them was Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi politician and enemy of Saddam Hussein. He would come to be viewed as a controversial figure, seen by some as providing questionable information to facilitate the decision to go to war.
A member of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), Chalabi and other Iraqi exiles, appeared to be motivated by the prospect of taking over from Saddam. Ignored by the Clinton administration, they had aligned themselves with the Republican Party. When George W Bush and his administration took office, the Iraqi exiles found themselves in an enviable position: they had the confidence of the administration and were willing to say anything to ensure that Saddam was removed.
As the case a for war was being constructed behind the scenes, Bush continued to prepare the public.
"Afghanistan is still just the beginning. If anybody harbours a terrorist, you're a terrorist. If they fund a terrorist, they're a terrorist. If they house terrorists, they're terrorists ... If they develop weapons of mass destruction, that will be used to terrorise nations, they will be held accountable," Bush declared during a speech at the White House in November 2001.
Under the guise of fear of weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs, the American public was lulled into a false sense of urgency, ultimately justifying an invasion that American intelligence had already deemed unnecessary - years of investigations and monitoring had come up with no evidence that Iraq had WMDs.
In early 2002, the military machine was set into motion. But approval from Congress would still be needed. the Central Intelligence Agency was asked to carry out a National Intelligence Estimate. The document that was eventually produced - and only made available to the public 13 years later, in 2015 - was a cautious and contradictory evaluation, seemingly intended to assist Bush in his indictment of Saddam's alleged path towards nuclear weapons. Congress approved the war.
"I found the document to be very unpersuasive, and it was a significant part of my ultimate decision to vote against the war in Iraq," says former Florida senator, Bob Graham.
In late 2002, as Bush and the pro-war camp were getting ready to formally announce the US' commitment to war in Iraq, a mystery dossier, reportedly circulated by an Italian military secret service agent, landed on Vice President Dick Cheney's desk. The dossier claimed that there had been irregular sales of concentrated uranium, or "yellowcake", from Niger to Iraq.
The dossier was invalidated by US diplomat Joe Wilson and the Italians, but Cheney ignored their warnings. Its claims would later be questioned by the French government and France would go on to become one of the most vocal voices against the Iraq war. The "yellow cake" document was finally refuted by Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The sales campaign that took place I would characterise as aggressive deception.
Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice spearheaded a media offensive with the government's WMD claims. The US media seemed to buy into it and convinced the public - the seeds of fear that had been sown months before were now ready to harvest.
In March 2003, American tanks rolled into Baghdad and the statue of Saddam is pulled down. It was a goal Chalabi had dedicated much of his life to achieving. But in retrospect, he seemed to have changed his opinion.
"The downward spiral started with the occupation. The coalition, especially the Americans, lost the moral high ground, and they became the jailers of the Iraqi people," says Chalabi.
Three years later, Bush would admit that Saddam did not, in fact, have WMDs.
The war resulted in an incalculable loss of human life. It cost the US almost $2 trillion in public money. And one of its "unintended consequences" was the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
"I think one of the saddest aspects of our Iraq war is how quickly Americans have chosen to forget it," says Andrew Bacevich, a former US army colonel and military historian. "There seems to be an unwillingness on the part of the American people to acknowledge and to confront this enormous failure."
Source: Al Jazeera