IRAQ: This war violates international law

Issue 

BY
RAHUL MAHAJAN

The US government claims that the war against Iraq is necessary in
order to uphold international law. Yet, Iraq is threatening no country
with aggression and its violations of UN Security Council resolutions are
technical, mostly a matter of providing incomplete documentation about
weapons that may or may not exist, and for the use of which there are no
apparent plans.

At the same time, Israel is in violation of — at a very conservative
count — more than 30 resolutions, relating to, among other things, the
continuing illegal occupation, steady encroachment and annexation of another
people's land in violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Indonesia, another US ally, violated UN resolutions for a quarter of
a century in East Timor with relative impunity. Pro-US Morocco still illegally
occupies Western Sahara. In each of these cases, the US is not about to
go to war to help uphold international law.

The US is also a very odd country to claim to be the guardian of international
law. Ever since a 1986 International Court of Justice ruling against the
US and in favour of Nicaragua [for the illegal mining of that country's
ports], Washington has refused to acknowledge the ICJ's authority (the
US$17 billion in damages it was ordered to pay were never delivered). Shortly
after that judgment, the US actually vetoed a Security Council resolution
calling on states to respect international law!

Of course, the US government doesn't itself violate Security Council
resolutions, since it can always veto them — as it did when the Security
Council tried to condemn its blatantly illegal invasion of Panama in 1989,
and on seven occasions regarding its sponsorship of the contra war to overthrow
the Nicaraguan government in the 1980s.

But for the sake of argument, let's forget about the international double
standards and focus just on Iraq. Even without reference to anything else,
one can point to repeated US violations of international law, in particular
the specific “containment” [sanctions] measures, instituted after the 1991
Gulf War.

To start with, Iraq has been under illegal attack for the past decade,
with numerous US-British bombing attacks including the massive 1998 Desert
Fox campaign, even as it was being called on to start obeying international
law.

The US has also taken numerous illegal or questionably legal steps to
subvert the Iraqi government regime: passing the Iraq Liberation Act in
October 1998, which provided $97 million for groups trying to overthrow
the Iraqi government, a clear violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a violation
of international law; stating that only with “regime change” would the
sanctions be lifted, in violation of UN Security Council resolution 687;
and using weapons inspections to commit espionage, the information from
which was then used in targeting decisions during Desert Fox.

Premeditated aggression

Perhaps the most cogent argument, however, is the fact that the war the
US is waging on Iraq is an act of premeditated aggression.

In August, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered that the list
of bombing targets be extended far beyond any goal of enforcing the “no-fly
zones” (which incidently have no legal basis in international law) to include
command-and-control centres and in general to go beyond simple reaction
to threats. According to John Pike of Globalsecurity.org, this was
“part of their strategy of going ahead and softening up the air defences
now” to prepare for war later.

By December, the shift could be noted in a 300% increase in ordnance
dropped per threat detected — a clear sign that simply defending the overflights
was no longer the primary aim of the bombings. According to the British
Guardian, “Whitehall officials have admitted privately that the
'no-fly' patrols, conducted by RAF and US aircraft from bases in Kuwait,
are designed to weaken Iraq's air defence systems and have nothing to do
with their stated original purpose”.

So the first salvoes in the war were being fired even as UN inspections
continued. In the first two months of this year, bombings occurred almost
every other day.

Even worse, according to strategic analyst Michael Klare, by February
it had become clear that all of the administration's supposed diplomatic
activities in late 2002 and early 2003 had merely been a smokescreen.

The war was being seriously planned from at least the northern spring
of 2002, but in the summer there was a serious internal Washington debate
between a so-called “Afghan option”, which called for 50,000-75,000 troops
and heavy reliance on air power and Iraqi opposition forces and the eventual
“Desert Storm lite” plan, with 250,000 troops and a full-scale invasion.

Fundamental violation

The decision was made in late August, but the more involved plan, according
to Klare, required at least a six-month deployment. Ever since, the timetable
has not been determined by diplomacy, UN resolutions and weapons inspections,
but rather military deployment, the strong-arming of regional allies for
staging areas needed for the invasion, and, quite likely, replenishment
of stocks of precision weapons depleted in the war on Afghanistan.

As inspections increased in effectiveness and scope, as Iraq dismantled
its al Samoud missiles and as it struggled desperately to find ways to
answer questions over unaccounted for biological and chemical agents, the
White House contemptuously dismissed all efforts. The constant refrain
is that time is running out, with no explanation of why the time is so
limited. The reason is simple; it was not because of any imminent threat
from Iraq, it was because the troops were there and ready to go.

The obvious conclusion is that the war was decided on long ago, irrespective
of Iraq's actions. Nothing Iraq could have done short of full-scale capitulation
would have stopped the US from going to war. That makes this war a clear
case of aggression.

Even the fig leaf of another UN Security Council resolution would not
have changed that fact. Nor would it have conferred any legitimacy on the
actions, because of the massive attempts by the United States to coerce,
bribe and otherwise exert undue influence on other countries, including
key undecided Security Council members, to support the US position.

In fact, the US war on Iraq is itself the most fundamental violation
of international law. In the language coined at the Nuremberg trials, it
is a crime against peace. Former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson,
chief US prosecutor at the first Nuremberg trial, called waging aggressive
war “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes
in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”.

[Rahul Mahajan is a founding member of the US Nowar Collective (<http://www.nowarcollective.com>).
This article is based on excerpts from his forthcoming book, The US
War Against Iraq: Myths, Facts and Lies
. Mahajan's articles can be
found at <http://www.rahulmahajan.com>.]

From Green Left Weekly, March 26, 2003.

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