IRAQ: This war violates international law



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, 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 (<>). 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 <>.]

From Green Left Weekly, March 26, 2003.
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