Operation Iraqi Freedom marked not only the US’s second incursion into Iraq in just over a decade but also an unprecedented alignment of the media with the interests of the US government. As in the First Gulf War (1991), the desirability of attacking Iraq became increasingly tied up with human rights abuses committed by Saddam Hussein (the ex-president of Iraq, 1979–2003). Though the Bush run-up to war has generated some frame analysis and agenda-setting research (e.g. Degano, 2007; Nicolaev and Porpora, 2007; Porpora and Nicolaev, 2008), few studies have investigated the prelude to the Iraq War debate from a critical discourse perspective and across different media contexts (e.g. Chang and Mehan, 2008; Sahlane, 2012, 2013, 2015; Wilson, Sahlane, and Somerville, 2012). The present study is an attempt to fill this gap by addressing the role of language in shaping the way the 2003 Iraq crisis unfolded and remained unresolved.