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Further re: U.S. bombing of Iraq is illegal

On the subject of whether or not the bombing is 'illegal' - there is of 
course some propaganda use in saying that such and such an action is
illegal, or that it does not conform to the spirit or letter of a Security
Council Resolution, but actually I do not see how any action of any of the
permanent members of the Security Council can be said to be 'illegal'.

The highest authority in judging the legality or otherwise of military
actions, especially in relation to UN Security Council resolutions, is the
UN Security Council itself. And all five permanent members have a veto. So
they can veto any resolution that their actions are 'illegal'.

For this reason I believe the whole notion of 'international law', as
presently understood, is built on sand and would welcome a concerted refusal
on the part of the peoples of the world to refuse the authority of the
Security Council. Rather than advocating the 'lifting of sanctions' I would
prefer supporting the efforts of the Iraqi government to persuade its
interlocutors to break the 'law'. I would like to see the argument developed
that only the International Court of Justice at the Hague (not the
specialised War Crimes Tribunals set up under the non-authority of the
Security Council) has credibility as the centre of a respectable system of
international justice. And that the highest authority in the UN should be
not the Security Council but the General Assembly.

This would, I imagine, mean withdrawing from the existing UN structure and
setting up a new structure. The USA would of course refuse to have anything
to do with it. A big project, probably hopelessly Utopian, but I think, and
have thought for a long time, that the case is worth putting. It would be a
project for what used to be called the 'non-aligned' countries of the world.

Does anyone know of anyone else who is thinking along similar lines? Any
organisation that is arguing against recognising ANY decision of the UN
Security Council (even ones we might happen to like) as 'legal' in any
honourable sense of the term?

Peter Brooke

From: "Colin Rowat" <>
To: <>, <>
Subject: RE: [iac-disc.] op/ed: U.S. bombing of Iraq is illegal
Date: Tue, Aug 21, 2001, 2:40 am

Thanks Robert (and Felicity) for the "U.S. bombing of Iraq is illegal"

> The United States and Britain
> claim that a 1991 U.N. Security Council resolution authorizes them to bomb
> at will.
> The only problem is that the resolution cited clearly does not set up the
> zones or authorize any nation to unilaterally carry out such actions. In
> short: The U.S. and U.K. are perpetrating acts of aggression that violate
> international law.

The resolution referred to here is 688; a link to this and some commentary
on it can be found on CASI's website at

Not only does 688 not authorise nations to take unilateral action, but it
does not allow enforcement action of any kind.  Security Council resolutions
that wish to allow enforcement action must make reference to Chapter VII of
the UN Charter.  688 does not, intentionally: China and (I believe) Russia
were worried about the precedent that would be created if the Security
Council claimed the right to use force against sovereign states for domestic

The US and UK governments do not, though, claim that 688 gives them the
right to "bomb at will".  Their formula is somewhat more subtle: the no fly
zones are actions taken "in support of" 688.  Their actions are as well:
their rules of engagement only allow force to be used in response to
threats.  Their rules do, however, allow the response to come at any time
after the original threat, and to be directed against any element of the
system that threatened them.  Effectively, of course, this allows them to
attack Iraq's air defenses "at will".

Yet this also presents a real problem from the point of view of their
ability to "support" 688, which called for the Iraqi government to cease its
repression of Iraq's civilian population: I have yet to read of a human
rights violation in Iraq that has involved the perpetrators targetting
passing US or British planes with radar.  Thus, the zones seem largely
incapable of supporting 688, even in spirit.

> I doubt that the Shi'a ... are
> reassured to know the United States is now their protector. Nor are the
> Kurds, who have been used as a political ping-pong ball by Washington for
> decades, likely to be bolstered by the news.

It is clear that the northern zone is not an iron-clad guarantee for Iraqi
Kurds.  The zone only coincides crudely with Iraqi Kurdistan, omitting its
largest city, and including Mosul (in Iraq proper).  Additionally,
Washington's limited committment is very clear.  US Ambassador for
transition in Iraq Frank Riccardione's remark last year was particularly
bald: Washington does not have a Kurdish policy; instead, it has policies
towards all of those countries fortunate enough to have Kurdish populations.
Further, life in Iraqi Kurdistan, even with this limited guarantee, seems
quite unstable, if refugees and asylum seekers are any gauge.  Finally, the
Turkish "special packages" - bombing raids against villages in Iraqi
Kurdistan suspected of containing PKK Kurds - are not prevented by the zone;
indeed, the US and UK cannot fly when Turkey is raiding.

For all these warts, Iraqi Kurds do seem to regard the northern no fly zone
as a temporary symbol of some support for them.  Given that they are one of
the communities at greatest risk in this situation, and particularly now, I
would not call for its outright abolition, but for its replacement by a
mechanism better able to protect Kurdish rights, and with greater
international legal support.


Colin Rowat

work | Department of Economics | The University of Birmingham | Birmingham,
B15 2TT, UK |

personal | 07768 056 984 (UK mobile) | (917) 517 5840 (USA mobile) | (707)
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