Weapons of mass destruction have proven hard to find in Iraq and now they've disappeared from President George W. Bush's speeches.
A reliable staple of past addresses, the four words did not cross his lips during two public appearances in Pennsylvania and Michigan on Thursday. Nor did Bush use the phrase on Wednesday in a formal update for Americans on the progress US forces have made in Iraq that he delivered from the White House Rose Garden.
At a US$2,000 apiece cocktail party in Dearborn to raise money for his re-election campaign next year, Bush came close to resurrecting it, telling 900 Republican supporters: "Free nations do not threaten the world with weapons of mass terror."
Before the US-led invasion and during the war's early stages, Bush speeches were peppered with references to weapons of mass destruction and the specter of apocalyptic havoc that chemical and biological arms might wreak on the US, its friends and allies. He used the words so much that sometimes they became simply "WMD."
Now that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein has been ousted and with no conclusive evidence of weapons of mass destruction, the president has recently spoken more benignly of "weapons programs" and "illegal weapons," although he has said he remains confident that banned arms will be uncovered.
"A free and democratic and peaceful Iraq will not threaten America or our friends with illegal weapons," he said in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Livonia, Michigan. "A free Iraq will not provide weapons to terrorists, or money to terrorists, who threaten the American people."
It was his only reference to Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction -- the main US justification for going to war.
Under fire from Democrats who accused the White House of exaggerating intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, Bush and other senior officials have launched a concerted effort to shift attention to the democratic promise of a post-war and Saddam-free Iraq.
Some Democratic candidates seeking to unseat Bush in 2004 have charged the president with misleading the American people about the threat Iraq posed. They have seized on the controversy surrounding Bush's State of the Union speech last January, which included an unsubstantiated allegation that Iraq sought uranium from Africa for nuclear weapons.