Middle East

FAQ: Iraq 2003-13, a journey through words

This research explores the most recurrent key terms found in the communications by United States' presidents George Bush and Barack Obama, as well as some other high-level officials, regarding Iraq in the last 10 years.

Only official US Government speeches were analysed, so that a consistent set of texts could be sourced for the whole decade.

Why only the US perspective?

Image caption Speeches from President Bush were used to extract the key terms regarding the actions in Iraq

Originally we wanted to compare the results with an alternative rhetoric of the war in Iraq, but we could not identify a consistent, institutional source comparable to the US government for the whole period to provide that balance.

Therefore, in order to offer a meaningful contrast, we asked Arab Media specialist Dr Zahera Harb, Senior Lecturer in International Journalism, City University London, to comment on the findings from the Arab Media point of view.

This is complemented with quotes and key events year by year, to provide some context on how each key term was used.

How were the speeches chosen?

We analysed 148 texts, dating between January 2003 and February 2013.

Texts where sourced from the White House archive for former President George W. Bush and from the current White House website for President Barack Obama's administration (since 2009).

When possible, only full speeches or statements on Iraq were used.

Texts varied in size and nature, including statements to the nation, to the UN, to the troops in Iraq and weekly presidential radio addresses.

We aimed to collect 10 different speeches for every six-month period. However, the amount of relevant texts available varied enormously over time.

From 2009, as President Obama took office and the US military involvement in Iraq began to come to an end, there were fewer public statements on Iraq.

Therefore, for this last period, we used interviews and press conferences and we extracted paragraphs on Iraq from statements on wider issues.

After the US completed its removal of troops in December 2011, the issue of Iraq fell off Washington's political agenda and there were barely any texts available for analysis. Therefore data for 2012 and the two first two months of 2013 is very limited.

How were the speeches analysed?

Speeches were grouped by six month periods and analysed with an advanced text semantics software provided by BBC Monitoring that helped organise the content into meaningful groups or 'clusters'.

With the help of a BBC Middle East Media Analyst results were interpreted and a list of 86 key terms was created. Some of those represent a group of related terms with a common theme.

For example, the keyword 'weapons of mass destruction' groups together the concepts of 'chemical weapons', 'nuclear weapons', 'biological weapons'; likewise, the term 'Living honourably' also covers 'living with heads held high' and 'left with honour'.

We then counted how often each of those 86 terms appeared for each year. This enabled us to weight the terms in relation with all the words we analysed for that year. As a result we were able to compare all key terms over time.

Then we concentrated on the top 15 terms for the purpose of our guide.

For 2012 and 2013 we were not able to use the text analysis software mentioned above. This was because there was less number of speeches about Iraq as the topic became less prominent.

Where can I find the full data set?

You can explore the full list of key terms and their indicative weighting on this spreadsheet.