A UN weapons inspector in Iraq, 2002
Strong international opposition to the Saddam Hussein regime began after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The international community condemned the invasion, and in 1991 a military coalition led by the United States launched the Gulf War to expel Iraq from Kuwait. Following the Gulf War, the US and its allies tried to keep Saddam in check with a policy of containment. This policy involved numerous economic sanctions by the UN Security Council; the enforcement of Iraqi no-fly zones declared by the US and the UK to protect the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan and Shias in the south from aerial attacks by the Iraqi government; and ongoing inspections to ensure Iraq's compliance with United Nations resolutions concerning Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
The inspections were carried out by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). UNSCOM, in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, worked to ensure that Iraq destroyed its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and facilities. In the decade following the Gulf War, the United Nations passed 16 Security Council resolutions calling for the complete elimination of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Member states communicated their frustration over the years that Iraq was impeding the work of the special commission and failing to take seriously its disarmament obligations. Iraqi officials harassed the inspectors and obstructed their work, and in August 1998 the Iraqi government suspended cooperation with the inspectors completely, alleging that the inspectors were spying for the US. The spying allegations were later substantiated.
In October 1998, removing the Iraqi government became official U.S. foreign policy with enactment of the Iraq Liberation Act. The act provided $97 million for Iraqi "democratic opposition organizations" to "establish a program to support a transition to democracy in Iraq." This legislation contrasted with the terms set out in United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, which focused on weapons and weapons programs and made no mention of regime change. One month after the passage of the Iraq Liberation Act, the US and UK launched a bombardment campaign of Iraq called Operation Desert Fox. The campaign's express rationale was to hamper Saddam Hussein's government's ability to produce chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, but U.S. intelligence personnel also hoped it would help weaken Saddam's grip on power.
With the election of George W. Bush as president in 2000, the US moved towards a more aggressive Iraq policy. The Republican Party's campaign platform in the 2000 election called for "full implementation" of the Iraq Liberation Act as "a starting point" in a plan to "remove" Saddam. However, little formal movement towards an invasion occurred until the 11 September attacks.