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US, Iraq spar over legality of war at Geneva disarmament conference

[JURIST] A heated, unscheduled debate on the legality of the war in Iraq erupted Thursday at the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. A representative of Syria ignited the exchange by saying the war had nothing to do with international law but was "the law of the jungle", and thousands of innocent Iraqis were being killed. A stormy exchange followed, also involving delegates from the United States, Iraq and The United Kingdom:

J. SHERWOOD McGINNIS (United States) said regrettably, the intervention by Syria was one in which a fair number of half-truths and untruths were contained. Regrettably, the international community needed to act because after 12 years of lack of cooperation and dozens of United Nations resolutions and the sending of hundreds of weapons inspectors, Iraq had failed to disarm. The only reason Security Council resolution 1441 was passed, and the only reason Iraq allowed inspectors back onto its territory, was the threat of the use of force. The cooperation mentioned by Syria on the part of Iraq, moreover, was very grudgingly given, and very circumspect. The US had worked within the United Nations on this subject for 12 years, and had sponsored and supported a number of resolutions. The action now under way in Iraq was based on former Security Council resolutions.

NAWFAL AL-BASRI (Iraq) said the Iraqi Government had cooperated with the weapons inspectors and had given them every possibility to complete their mission. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix and others had confirmed this in official statements. Iraq had cooperated with international organizations because it was concerned with respecting international resolutions. It had authorized the over-flight of its territory and the destruction of unauthorized Salmud II missiles. The weapons inspectors had asked for additional time to complete their jobs and had indicated that there was effective cooperation from Iraq. Thus, Iraq had been surprised by the United States’ declaration that international resolutions had not been respected. The United States had launched a war which had not been internationally authorized. The United States administration had taken neither the opinion of numerous countries condemning the war nor international public opinion into account.

This was not a clean war, said Mr. Al-Basri. The suffering of the Iraqi people could be witnessed on a daily basis as facilities, including electrical and drinking water installations, were destroyed. The United States’ real objective was to destroy Iraq; the United States had a modern military arsenal capable of targeting objectives, yet still there had been civilian deaths. How could one talk about international legitimacy when the American bombing attacks killed children under the age of ten? The people of Iraq would not welcome the coalition soldiers with happiness, as the United States had thought. The people of Iraq had shown fierce opposition in the face of aggression.

The United Nations should intervene to put an end to this illegitimate aggression, which flagrantly violated its Charter, said Mr. Al-Basri. The United States’ actions enshrined the law of the jungle and scorn for international legitimacy. The objectives of the US were now clear; the US wanted to bring an end to the Iraqi regime and to control Iraq’s natural resources, as well as those of the whole region. This war was being waged against the Arab world as a whole. The United States had allocated to itself the right to "liberate" Iraq, yet it was killing women, children and old people. The world today demanded respect for international legitimacy and law; allowing States to impose their policies through the threat and use of war contributed to instability and chaos, which threatened international peace and security.

MR. SARRA (Syrian Arab Republic) said he did not agree with what the United States had just said; what the US had said did not square with the truth.

MR. BROUCHER (United Kingdom) said the actions the United Kingdom was taking along with the United States had been undertaken only after much thought, and the United Kingdom was convinced that these actions were in keeping with international law and Security Council resolutions. Iraq clearly could have avoided this situation if it had cooperated with Security Council resolutions. It had not, and Iraq had a history of using weapons of mass destruction against its neighbours and its own people, and so something had to be done. The best message the Conference could send to the world would be to deal with its own agenda. That was what the Conference should do.

MR. AL-BASRI (Iraq) said the United Kingdom had alleged that the current situation in Iraq was the result of non-compliance with international resolutions. But what had happened to those international resolutions designed to protect the Palestinian people? Why were the UK and the US not equally severe with Israel? Those resolutions condemning Israel had met with a favorable international response, yet nothing was done to implement them. What were the international standards referred to by the United Kingdom when Iraq was condemned and international resolutions on Israel ignored?
A complete summary of proceedings is available from the UN Information Service.

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