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A US Attack on Iraq Unlawful Warn Mideast Experts

14 August 2002

A US military attack on Iraq without UN Security Council authorization would be tantamount to aggression, say Middle East experts and American academics.

"To date, no branch of the U.S. government has officially explained a basis on which an attack on Iraq would be lawful," John Quiqley, professor of law at Ohio State University, said Monday.

He argued that the only basis for one state to use military force unilaterally against another is self-defense against an "armed attack".

"The United States is not being attacked by Iraq. And under the U.N. charter, an armed attack must be ongoing and present. Speculation about a future attack is not sufficient for a state to use armed force against another state," Quigley told IPS.

Last week, U.S. President George W. Bush said he had not reached a decision on Iraq - although he has reiterated his call for "a regime change" in Baghdad to oust President Saddam Hussein.

But right-wing hawks in the Bush administration, led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have said that an attack on Iraq is inevitable because it not only possesses weapons of mass destruction but is also a threat to the world at large.

Last month, Bush said that he also believes in "pre-emptive strikes" against countries that either foment terrorism or continue to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

The 1991 U.S.-led Gulf War - aimed at ousting Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait - was authorized by the 15-member Security Council. The only negative votes came from Cuba and Yemen.

It is "illegitimate" for the United States to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iraq in the name of international peace and security without an express mandate from the Security Council, said Chris Toensing, editor of the Washington-based Middle East Report. No existing resolution, he said, provides for "a regime change".

"It would be equally illegitimate for the Security Council to grant such a mandate under heavy pressure from the United States, as may occur," he added. Toensing said Iraq must either attack the United States or threaten to imminently attack the United States - and neither condition exists today.

"With its talk of a pre-emptive strike on Iraq, the Bush administration is undermining the very notion that international law should regulate the behavior of nation states, and advocating instead the law of the jungle," he noted.

Asked if any Security Council resolutions provide for a member state to use military means to change a regime in another state, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "this is not a U.N. policy, and the Security Council has not taken any decision of the kind".

Annan also told reporters last week that he does not support pre-emptive strikes against Iraq. "My position has always been very clear - that I think it would be unwise to attack Iraq, given the current circumstances of what's happening in the Middle East."

Last week, the Iraqi government invited the head of the U.N. arms inspection team, Hans Blix, and also a U.S. Congressional delegation to visit Baghdad. But both offers were turned down.

Phyllis Bennis, Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, argues that if the United States was serious about weapons of mass destruction, it would jump on any opportunity to follow through on serious investigations.

The refusal to even test Iraqi intentions on these invitations - and particularly Rumsfeld's "cavalier dismissal" of the invitation as "a joke" - gives further evidence that the Bush administration is far less interested in real evidence regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs than they are in going to war, she added.

Asked what will deter the United States from launching an attack, Bennis said: "I do not think the Bush administration is prepared to determine its policy in Iraq based on the fact that they stand fundamentally isolated in world public and official opinion."

"I believe the most influential opposition right now is reflected in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose opposition is based on rigorous military assessments about, a) large-scale U.S. military casualties, and, b) the likelihood that military assault may fail 'to do the job' identified with this mission - namely, bringing in Saddam Hussein's head on a plate."

Bennis said that massive air strikes and even ground troop invasions are not known as efficient tools of personal assassination - as the Pentagon has seen in its failure to find and capture Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders such as Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Mouin Rabbani, director of the Palestinian-American Research Centre in Ramallah, said double standards exist in American thinking on the issue of weapons of mass destruction.

"Evidence that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction in violation of international law is as convincing as the evidence that Israel possesses weapons of mass destruction in violation of the relevant treaty obligations," he said.

"This is something about which the United States is wholly silent," he added. "My opinion would be that where a state is accused of violating an international treaty, the remedy should be determined by the international community, and not by a single state acting on the basis of ulterior motives which it has publicly enunciated, and which are very clearly in gross violation of international law."

Rabbani also pointed out that Iraq's neighbors, "who are allegedly being defended by the United States, have very publicly indicated that they do not deem themselves threatened by Iraq".

Ali Abunimah, vice-president of the Arab-American Action Network in Chicago, told IPS that there is overwhelming consensus that, with or without Security Council backing, a U.S. attack on Iraq "would be wholly unwarranted and unjustified aggression".

"It is unthinkable that the right of self defense stretches to include an unprovoked invasion of a country half way around the world for reasons that no one in the U.S. administration can coherently articulate," he added.

Thalif Deen
Published by © 2002

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