Iraqi War is Illegal

By on September 22, 2004

This past Thursday, Secretary General Kofi Annan said the war in Iraq is illegal because it does not have Security Council support, thus violating international law. Previously, Annan had said the war was “not in conformity” with United Nations’ policies, but this was the first time he used such strong language as “illegal.” The United Nations Charter lets countries take military action with explicit Security Council approval, and according to Annan, there was no specific authorizing resolution from the Security Council.

In defense, US and British officials turned to Security Council Resolution 1441, passed in late 2002, that called on Saddam to give up weapons of mass destruction and warned Iraq that there would be “consequences” if it did not comply with UN demands to disarm. However, it did not specify what those consequences should be. Annan claims the US and Britain should have obtained a second resolution specifically authorizing the forceful disarmament of Iraq.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office said that the British attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, had found that Britain was acting legally in supporting military action. He based his claim on three UN resolutions that justified the use of force against Saddam’s regime. Bush did not directly comment, but his administration stated that existing UN resolutions provided solid legal basis for the invasion of Iraq. He also said that he had “no regrets.”

While Washington has not immediately joined the debate, both the British government and Australian Prime Minister John Howard have rejected Annan’s assessment that the invasion was illegal. Both governments claim that, in the words of Howard, “The legal advice we had… at the time was that the action was entirely valid in international law terms.”

In contrast, France backs Annan. Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said, “You well know that what explains our country’s disagreement with the way the war was carried out was that it clearly did not at that time abide by international law and there was not a clear request from the United States to start that action.” Barnier further goes on to say that this has been “France’s traditional view from the start.”

Annan’s statement has rekindled the bitter debate over the legitimacy of the US-Britain invasion of Iraq. World leaders and ministers will meet next week to discuss this topic in the New York City UN Headquarters for the world body’s 59th general session.

Tim Garden, a security-policy expert at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London, has an idea as to why Annan chose to say this right now. He says, “It may well be that Kofi Annan is making these remarks at this time looking forward to-with a little bit of concern-the next international problem which is not Iraq but Iran, and making it clear that if you want to carry out preemptive interventions, you have got to have the international community behind you and a clear resolution before you go doing it.”

Kofi Annan’s reaction to his own statement was to say: “I think in the end everybody’s concluded it’s best to work together with our allies and through the UN. I hope we do not see another Iraq-type operation for a long time- without UN approval and much broader support from the international community.”


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