Student Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 5-1-2023

Document Type


Degree Name


Honors Designation


Program of Study

Political Science



First Advisor

Myung-koo Kang

Second Advisor

Anh Tran

Third Advisor

Gerasimos Karavitis


The 2001 Anthrax Attacks were a critical factor in the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) claims that sparked the Iraq War. Despite its significance, little systematic work has been done regarding the topic. Existing studies primarily focus on the role of the Military Industrial Complex and intelligence failures as the primary explanations for the origins of the Iraq War. These explanations are limited, as they rely on hindsight biases. This thesis contends that anthrax was the catalyst for WMD claims that sparked the Iraq War. The 2001 Anthrax Attacks reinforced the belief that Iraq harbored WMDs and posed a threat to the U.S. These attacks have often been overshadowed by the 9/11 tragedy and the inability to find WMDs in Iraq. This thesis finds that the Bush Administration viewed these attacks as a significant threat to the U.S. They seized the opportunity that the 2001 Anthrax Attacks presented to formulate WMD allegations and present Iraq as an imminent threat when a direct link between 9/11 and Iraq couldn't be established. Cognitive biases played a significant role in this finding. These biases created a predetermined desire to go to war with Iraq. This enabled anthrax to be the trigger for this war because of a shared understanding in the United States on the Iraqi regime, Saddam Hussein, WMDs, and terrorism. This thesis also emphasizes anthrax's significance as a driving force behind the Iraq War and its lasting impact on U.S. policy, a role often overlooked and forgotten in current discussions. This study uses rhetorical narratives, polling data, epistemology, heuristics, and psychological biases to better understand the mindset and decisions of the time. By doing a rigorous historical analysis, the research offers a more accurate depiction of events and decision-making without being distorted by hindsight biases. The study concludes that anthrax was the catalyst for WMD claims leading to the Iraq War. It also discusses the impact of the Anthrax Attacks on the U.S. government’s health, defense, and intelligence policies.


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