I take it all back. The Bush administration hadn't made up its mind to GO to war in the summer of 2002--they decided to START a war in 2002.
Statistics on US/UK bombing activity in the southern no-fly zone of Iraq during 2002 have recently been made available from the British Defense Department. The following is a record of ordnance dropped, in tons, by month:
March - 0.0
April - 0.3
May - 7.3
June - 10.4
July - 9.5
August - 14.1
September - 54.6
October - 17.7
November - 33.6
December - 53.2
Keep in mind that the missions on which these bombs were dropped were patrols of the no-fly zone created to protect the Shia in the south (and Kurds in the north) from attacks by the regime. Pilots had strict orders to engage only if they were targeted or fired upon, and they were permitted to retaliate only against the anti-aircraft guns, missiles, or radar that had engaged them.
The uptick in bombing in May corresponds to a shift in policy, announced by Donald Rumsfeld, that allowed these patrols to engage in offensive, unprovoked attacks on "command and control centers". Of particular interest to Rumsfeld was the regime's newly installed fiber optic communications network that made traditional monitoring techniques useless. Michael Smith also describes here
how the pre-war bombing facilitated the movement of special forces into Iraq.
But the air campaign served a dual purpose. It softened up Iraqi defenses in preparation for the ground assault the administration knew it would soon undertake, but it also represents the "spikes of activity" UK Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon describes in the DSM that the US had begun to "put pressure on the regime." The bombing was meant to provoke a response that would, in turn provide a ready excuse for invasion.
In a sick twist of irony, this unauthorized air war was going on even as Congress debated the use of force in Iraq, making that debate nothing more than a farce. If I was inclined toward conspiracy theories, I might even be tempted to view the (relative) drop in bombing activity during October as being timed to quiet things down for the mid-term elections. But I'm sure there is a perfectly valid reason for dropping only 17.7 TONS of bombs instead of the previous month's 54. I just don't think the administration is inclined to tell us what that reason was anytime soon.