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Iraq disarmament crisis

The issue of Iraq's disarmament reached a crisis in 2002-2003, when George W. Bush demanded a complete end to alleged Iraqi production and use of weapons of mass destruction. Under United Nations actions regarding Iraq, in place since the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq was banned from developing or possessing such weapons. Bush repeatedly backed demands for disarmament with threats of invasion. The Bush administration began a military buildup in the region, and pushed for the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which brought weapons inspectors led by Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei to Iraq.

Bush and Tony Blair met in the Portuguese Azores for an "emergency summit" over the weekend of March 15-16 2003, after which Bush declared that "diplomacy had failed", and stated his intentions to use military force to force Iraq to disarm in compliance with UN 1441. On March 19, 2003 a coalition of primarily US and British forces invaded Iraq, see 2003 Iraq War. After the war, a number of failed Iraqi peace initiatives were revealed, which included the abdication of Saddam Hussein.



President Bush addresses the United Nations General Assembly on the issues concerning Iraq Thursday, September 12, 2002
President Bush addresses the United Nations General Assembly on the issues concerning Iraq Thursday, September 12, 2002

In the decade following the Gulf War in 1991, the United Nations passed 16 Security Council resolutions calling for the elimination of Iraqi production and use of weapons of mass destruction. The UN showed obvious frustration over the years that Iraq was not only failing to disarm, but was interfering with the work of weapons inspectors. Resolutions were passed and statements were released - at least once a year - calling for Iraq to disarm and fully cooperate with inspectors. On many occasions, Iraqi soldiers physically prevented weapons inspectors from doing their job and in at least one case, took documents away from the inspectors.

In 1998, U.S. President Bill Clinton expressed concerns about Iraq's failure to disarm, noting that he believed the country would give its weapons of mass destruction to other countries. Clinton also stated his belief that Saddam Hussein would eventually use these weapons - it was "only a matter of time." On September 29, 1998, The United States Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act, which states that the U.S. intends to remove Saddam Hussein from office and replace the government with a democratic institution. The Iraq Liberation Act was signed by President Clinton on October 31, 1998. On the same day, Iraq announced it would no longer cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors.

Clinton's plans to remove Hussein from power were put on hold when the U.N., under Kofi Annan, brokered a deal wherein Iraq would allow weapons inspectors back into the country. Iraq quit cooperating with the inspectors only days later and the inspectors left the country in December. (Inspectors would return the following year as part of The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic).

Paul Wolfowitz, the hawkish conservative military analyst for the Defense Department under Ronald Reagan, had formulated a new foreign policy with regard to Iraq and other "potential aggressor states", dismissing "containment" in favor of "preemption": Strike first to eliminate threats.

This was short lived, however, and Clinton, along with George H. W. Bush, Colin Powell, and other former Bush administration officials, dismissed calls for preemption in favor of continued containment. This was the policy of George W. Bush as well for his first several months in office. The September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack brought to life Wolfowitz's and other hawks' advocacy for preemptive action; Iraq was widely agreed to be a likely subject of this new policy, even though no evidence yet produced connects Iraq with these attacks. Powell has continued to support the philosophy behind containment; as a moderated degree of action, and it is his advice which President Bush has balanced with Wolfowitz's calls to action for a moderated approach, beginning with the US appeals to the UN which resulted in UN Security Council Resolution 1441.

During most of 2002 and into 2003, the United States government has called for "regime change" in Iraq and threatened to use military force to overthrow the Iraqi government unless Iraq rids itself of all weapons of mass destruction and convinces the UN that it has done so. See also Disarmament of Iraq.

US diplomatic pressure to bring Iraq to compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1441, has created a diplomatic crisis in the UN, where some are in agreement with the US position, while others are dissenting; notably the permanent security council members France, Russia and the People's Republic of China and fellow NATO members Germany and Belgium.

The US has given the following reasons for its seeking to force Iraq's compliance:

  1. That the government of Iraq and its leader, Saddam Hussein, are anti-democratic and violate human rights - and has even been implicated in attempts at genocide.
  2. That the government of Iraq has failed to produce evidence of the destruction of caches of weapons of mass destruction, i.e. biological, chemical, as well as the existence of secret programs to produce nuclear weapons.
  3. That the government of Iraq has supported terrorist operations and groups, and is likely to supply them with weapons of mass destruction at some future point.

Several close allies of the U.S. (e.g. Germany, Belgium and France), although mainly sharing that estimation of the United States, oppose a military intervention because they claim that it will not decrease but increase the risk of terrorist attacks. Although the UK and governments of other members of the EU and NATO also support the US position, opinion polls show that in general their populations are against an attack, especially an attack without clear UN Security Council support. February 15, 2003, peace marches demonstrated the capacity of the peace movement to mobilize millions in the major cities of Europe, and hundreds of thousands in major cities of North America - which itself seems to be influencing the US position back towards the UN.

Issues of Concern

No weapons of mass destruction have yet been found in Iraq. No facilities to produce such weapons or their prerequisite components have been found in Iraq. This was the major cause stated by the Bush Administration for the US invasion of Iraq. It should be understood that the major stated concerns have yet to be validated.

The serious concerns of war opponents arose in part from a fear of US hegemony (NATO nations with proportionately larger Muslim populations, e.g. France, Canada, disproportionately seem to have this view). However, most governments and US sympathizers state that their concern rises from the estimation that a military way of solving will foment more radical Islamism and terrorism, and question all borders in that region (especially in Kurdistan, a disputed region that demographically includes areas in Turkey, Iran and Syria as well as Iraq - see also the frequent wars between Arab nations in Middle East conflict). Perhaps most importantly it is thought to jeopardize all efforts of supporting nonviolent democratic Islam, led by moderates who are themselves generally against a war. For most war opponents, the American intention largely exceeds the fate of Iraqi disarmament. The relationship between Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden appears forged for hiding other goals. Beyond disarmament, it is in Saudi Arabia that Bush is interested. It is in Riyadh that are the financial and strategic keys of the Middle-East.

These allies and movements prefer a diplomatic solution to disarm Iraq and support democratization in the region (similar to Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik in the 1970s which finally led to the peaceful revolutions in the Eastern Bloc in 1989).

Other opponents of the American invasion plan argued that the US's reasons were selective and ultimately insufficient, pointing out that states that the US regards as friendly to it share some of these attributes. For example, Saudi Arabia is not a democracy and is closely connected to the terrorists who executed the attack on the WTC and The Pentagon. Also, Kuwait did not become a democracy with universal suffrage after the Gulf War. Many states have weapons of mass destruction, the US more than any other, and the US itself (they claim) has not only supported terrorist operations and groups, but also engaged in terrorism.

Although it has received only mild press attention, a March 6 report by the UN nuclear inspectors casts serious doubt on the existence and extent of a current Iraqi nuclear program. Invasion opponents find the fact that the incriminating documents were forged particularly concerning acquisition of uranium (see Yellowcake Forgery).

Many opponents of the plan also claim that some or all of the above claims are vastly misrepresented by the Bush administration, especially in the connection between Iraq and terrorist groups. Fundamentalist Muslim groups generally do not support Iraq, as it is a secular nation that does not enforce what they perceive as Muslim law dictated by the Koran - in a tape reputedly released by Osama bin Laden in February 2003 Saddam Hussein is referred to as an 'ignorant infidel' and placed only second on the list of evils, after an invasion by the United States - of course collaboration between them would likely result in just such a tape, and it is impossible to verify that such tapes do not come from the CIA, as is widely believed about all such evidence in the Arab world. In February of 1999, the Guardian newspaper detailed historical connections between Iraq and Al-Queda. [1]

Although George W. Bush originally stated that existing resolutions were sufficient to justify the US launching a war, Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, insisted that the UN must be involved, and it is widely believed that Colin Powell, US secretary of state, agreed strongly with this view, and that a new resolution was required.

The United States led the tumultuous effort within the United Nations to pass UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which called for sweeping new powers for weapons inspectors within Iraq and threatens "serious consequences" if Iraq fails to comply with the resolution. This measure has been successful, according to the peace faction, as Iraq has allowed inspections to continue (after a four-year hiatus) soon after the measure passed, and has responded in a timely fashion to concerns raised about it.

The head of the UN weapons inspectors team, Hans Blix, expressed skepticism over Iraq's claims to have destroyed its stockpiles of anthrax and VX nerve agent. Blix said he found it "a bit odd" that Iraq, with "one of the best-organized regimes in the Arab world," would claim to have no records of the destruction of these illegal substances. "I don't see that they have acquired any credibility," Blix said. "There has to be solid evidence of everything, and if there is not evidence, or you can't find it, I simply say, 'Sorry, I don't find any evidence,' and I cannot guarantee or recommend any confidence."

In February 2003 the effort to draft an 18th resolution in the UN Security Council was underway. It was influenced at least in part by a near-revolt inside the UK Labour Party, which has the power to remove Tony Blair as PM of the UK, and which made clear that without another resolution, Blair would be proceeding without the support of most of the UK's voting population, which is strongly against a war including only US and UK forces.

Authority under International Law

The position under international law is unclear. Article 2 of the United Nations Charter forbids UN members from employing "the threat or use of force" against other states in a manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. Two exceptions exist to the rule: self-defense (Article 51) or an authorization by the Security Council to protect international peace and security (Chapter VII).

The United States and Britain have said repeatedly that they are willing to invade Iraq with or without Security Council authorization.

There have been two military actions carried out by any nation with the approval of the Security Council. These two instances were the Korean War and the Gulf War.

The United States does not recognize the jurisdiction of any international court over its citizens or military, holding that the United States Supreme Court is the final authority. One example of this policy is that the United States did not ratify the International Criminal Court (ICC) treaty, and on May 6, 2002 it informed the UN that it has no intention to join the treaty.

As of February 10, 2003 neither Iraq nor the United States have ratified the ICC treaty, and therefore a US attack on Iraq would not fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC. The actions of signatories such as the United Kingdom and Spain could however fall under the ICC jurisdiction.

On March 17, 2003, Peter Goldsmith, Attorney General of the UK, set out his government's legal justification for an invasion of Iraq. He said that Security Council resolution 678 authorised force against Iraq, which was suspended but not terminated by resolution 687, which imposed continuing obligations on Iraq to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction. A material breach of resolution 687 would revive the authority to use force under resolution 678. In resolution 1441 the Security Council determined that Iraq was in material breach of resolution 687 because it had not fully carried out its obligations to disarm. Although resolution 1441 had given Iraq a final chance to comply "it is plain that Iraq has failed so to comply". Most member governments of the United Nations Security Council made clear that after resolution 1441 there still was no authorization for the use of force. [2]

The UK government made its case that Iraq had failed to disarm by releasing the September Dossier and the Dodgy Dossier.

Authority under US Constitution

The Constitution grants the power to declare war exclusively to Congress, but declares the President to be Commander in Chief of the armed forces. Because of this division of power, there has long been controversy regarding the authority of the President outside of a declared war. Nonetheless, of the hundreds of times the United States has exercised force outside its borders, only five have been as part of a declared war.

In 1973, amid increasing domestic controversy about the Vietnam War, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution to limit the ability of the president to undertake prolonged military action without Congressional authority. No president since has recognized the constitutionality of this act, and most legal scholars believe it would not survive a challenge in court.

To avoid initiating a crisis under the War Powers Resolution, the Bush Administration sought explicit approval from the Congress to exercise force in Iraq. On October 2, 2002, the Congress passed a joint resolution which explicitly authorized the President to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate.

Iraqi opposition groups

Related article: Iraqi opposition group

In early August of 2002, US Vice President Dick Cheney met with leaders of the Iraqi opposition groups, pledging that the Bush Administration intended to replace Saddam Hussein with a democratic government. This pledge is viewed cynically by those who recall George H. W. Bush's call for Iraqis to overthrow Saddam in 1991, which led to the murder of a large number of Shiites in Southern Iraq when US air forces held back and let Saddam's helicopters fly in the southern No-Fly Zone to defeat the uprising. Cheney was the Secretary of Defense in that first Bush administration.

Dick Cheney, in his role as Vice President of the United States, has taken the lead in advocating an invasion, maintaining that it is foolish to wait until Iraq has completed construction of a nuclear weapon. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay have also been vocal in urging an invasion. Colin Powell appeared to favor diplomatic engagement, until very recently (see below).

War on Terrorism

As part of its War on Terrorism, the President of the United States, George W. Bush, announced on September 4, 2002 the Bush Doctrine that the United States would launch a preemptive military strike at any nation that could put weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists, and had a right to do so. At the same time he stated he would seek congressional approval for a strike against Iraq, which he received shortly before the mid-term elections in November. However it has since come to light that Iraq has no connections to any terrorist groups who are fighting the USA.

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Further reading

  • The War Against the Terror Masters: Why It Happened. Where We Are Now. How We'll Win., Michael Ledeen, St. Martin's Press, 2002, hardcover, 288 pages, ISBN 031230644X
  • Threatening Storm: The United States and Saddam's Iraq, Kenneth Pollack, Random House, 2002, hardcover, 494 pages, ISBN 0375509283
  • War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know, William Rivers Pitt, Context Books, 2002, paperback, 96 pages, ISBN 1893956385

External links

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45