Already a problem
- The existing sanctions process against Iraq (including patrols over the "no fly" zones) was a failure and was unsustainable. One way or another the status quo was going to end soon. Lifting the sanctions and ceasing to enforce the "no fly" zones without removing Saddam from power was too risky.
- Saddam represented a substantial long-term threat. He had demonstrated utter ruthlessness and viciousness in two external wars and uncountable internal repressions. He showed no sign of abandoning his ambition to develop nuclear weapons irrespective of how long it might take or how much it might cost or what political sacrifice might be required.
- Saddam had been providing immense support for terrorist groups, both monetarily and in other ways. There were known terrorist training bases in Iraq and he had been providing money and arms. It appears that little of that support went to al Qaeda. Most of it went to various Palestinian groups such as Hizbollah.
- Saddam had placed a bounty on Israelis by stating that he'd pay a lot of money to the families of any successful suicide bomber, no matter what group the bomber came from.
- Saddam had developed and used chemical weapons against Iranian troops and on Iraqi civilians. Left to himself there was a non-trivial chance of his giving such weapons to terrorists. After the war in 1991 and 12 years of Anglo-American enforcement of sanctions, Saddam had a grudge against the US, and the chance of him surreptitiously aiding terrorist attacks against us out of spite was too great to ignore. It's a matter of record that he attempted to have the senior George Bush assassinated. (George Bush Sr. had been President during the 1991 Gulf War.)
Cluelss left out one thing, in my mind.
Iraq was ceaseing to be a counter weight for Iran.
Iran's power was increaseing, through deals with the russians, while Iraq was stuggling to even stay a float. In a long term view of things, we could pull off slick nation building scheme, and in a few years have a strong ally, as a counter weight to Iran.
There are a few reasons he gives for Iraq, that i don't follow, but don't have enough knowlege to disagree with either.
"The "Arab Street" would not have been impressed by successful reform in Afghanistan or in Persian Iran."
update: he does come close to the issue with this statment.
Iraq is centrally located with borders on Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. It has major ports through which supplies and troops can move. Thus if we occupied Iraq, it would be ideal as a potential base of military operations against any of those other nations later, should that become necessary.
Wrangling with the UN ended up covering the primary period of troop deployment in Kuwait, restraining Saddam from a preemptive attack against us before we were ready. He believed right up to the last minute that his friends and supporters in Europe could prevent the attack, and knew that any military action by him would have scuttled that political effort by France, Germany and Russia. (Not yet known if this was a deliberate part of the Anglo-American strategy or fortunate side effect.)