Western Bombing of Iraq violates the International Law
By Robert Jensen
Published in Media Monitors Network · August, 2001
[This article also appeared on Middle East News Online, August 14, 2001, and other websites.]
One of the hardest jobs in the world has to be “Pentagon spokesperson,” the
fellow who gets stuck explaining that up is down and black is white.
For example, when the United States and Great Britain last week violated
international law once again with another bombing raid on Iraqi air defense
sites, a Pentagon spokesperson had to explain why U.S. aggression is
necessary to keep the peace.
“The main aim of the strike was to protect our aircraft and our pilots,”
the spokescolonel said, “and obviously the way you do that is to degrade
[Iraq’s] ability to target and hit us.”
The aircraft and pilots in question have for the past decade been
patrolling the so-called “no-fly zones” in northern and southern Iraq, in
which Iraq is forbidden to launch aircraft. The United States and Britain
claim that a 1991 U.N. Security Council resolution authorizes them to bomb
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
The rest of the world understands this, but no challenge is mounted simply
because the United States is the biggest bully on the block, and in this
case the law is what bully says.
So, the hard-working Pentagon spokesperson has to make sure that no one
notices the obvious: If the United States truly wanted to protect aircraft
and pilots, it would stop flying illegal and provocative military missions
over another sovereign nation.
The spokesperson’s problem is all made more difficult, and sordid, by the
hypocritical rationale given: The no-fly zones, we are told, are there to
protect the Kurds in the north and the Shi’a Muslims in the south from
Iraqi repression. That repression is real enough, but I doubt that the
Shi’a, who attempted to rise up in 1991 after the war and were slaughtered
by Saddam Hussein’s army under the watchful eye of U.S. forces, 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.
Admittedly, the spokesperson’s bosses have a difficult job, too. U.S.
policy toward Iraq has for a decade been a combination of sadism and
ineptitude. The cornerstone of the policy has been the harshest economic
embargo in modern history, which U.N. studies indicate are directly
responsible for the death of 1 million Iraqi civilians. These deaths are
not accidental; recent revelations show that U.S. officials knew that
sanctions would disable the Iraqi water system and cause massive civilian
Perhaps U.S. officials once thought the sanctions would force Saddam
Hussein from power, but after 11 years it is clear the embargo has actually
strengthened his regime. So, the United States stumbles around looking for
a way out of the corner it has painted itself into. Congress votes moneyto
support ineffectual and exiled Iraqi resistance groups, and national
security officials talk tough about military action.
Although Bush administration officials seem even more eager to escalate the
level of violence, this illegal U.S. conduct is a bipartisan affair; the
attacks went on throughout the Clinton administration as well. Republicans
and Democrats alike seem perfectly happy to violate international law and
reject the overwhelming international consensus to end the sanctions. On
both sides of the aisle, it is agreed that the U.S. upholds the rule of law
by violating the law and presses forward with diplomacy by trashing diplomacy.
No matter which party is in power, nary a mention of these unpleasant facts
shows up in the mainstream press or on television news. The fault lies not
with individual journalists but with the ideological framework for
reporting on U.S. policy, which takes as a given that the United States has
the power, and hence the right, to impose its will on the world, with
extreme violence if necessary.
So, while this sadistic incompetence continues, the rest of the world waits
for the global bully to back down. These other nations are well aware that
Hussein is a thug in charge of a gangster regime, but they also know that
the welfare of Iraqi civilians and the hope of real peace in the region
requires bringing Iraq back into the family of nations.