UN Resolutions and the U.S. War on Iraq

by Dayne Goodwin

The author is a member of AFSCME Local 1004 in Salt Lake City.

The U.S. government, the world’s “only remaining superpower,” has made it quite clear that it will go ahead with the full-scale attack on Iraq it is rapidly preparing when and if it so decides. The questions of allies, international law, or “decent respect to the opinions of” humanity are not decisive, although the Bush administration, and especially Secretary of State Colin Powell, will do the best they can to keep up a good “image” in these areas.

In regard to international law the U.S. government has taken the position that the government of Iraq is in “material breach” of the UN Security Council resolutions which provided the legal framework for ending the 1990–91 Gulf War. The U.S. government therefore claims that it is legally entitled to go to war to force Iraqi compliance. Of the five national governments which are permanent members of the UN Security Council and therefore have the procedural means (veto power) for sovereign decision-making at the UN, three—France, Russia, and China—have equivocated about whether they agree with the U.S. position that Iraq was in material breach of relevant Security Council resolutions.

That is, they equivocated until November 8, 2002. On November 8 the fifteen members of the UN Security Council voted unanimously in support of a new legal document, Resolution 1441. Resolution 1441 stipulates that Iraq is and has been in material breach of all (about fifteen) Security Council resolutions pertinent to the 1990–91 Gulf War.

These resolutions deal not only with disarmament and international weapons inspections but also with human rights, free access throughout Iraq for humanitarian organizations, and accounting for missing Kuwaiti nationals and property.

In return for this official endorsement of the U.S. position, that Iraq is in material breach of several Security Council resolutions, the U.S. government accepted language in Resolution 1441 which says that if Iraq is not totally compliant with this new resolution, the Security Council will “convene immediately…in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance with all of the relevant Council resolutions in order to secure international peace and security.” That is the extent of U.S. responsibility to the Security Council under Resolution 1441. The U.S. government maintains its position that Iraq’s material breach of previous resolutions alone is sufficient legal justification for unilateral U.S. military attack.

(Of course, there is no talk of attacking Israel, which is in “material breach” of countless UN Security Council resolutions, and has been for years. So this is selected use of “international law” to serve the interests of the world’s only superpower.)

Calling on the U.S. government to submit to UN procedures is not an effective antiwar position. It could be a useful position to take to score points against the Bush administration in intramural partisan competition between Democrats and Republicans.

The greatest possible effect of demanding U.S. government cooperation with the UN process would be to require the U.S. government to get at least acquiescence from the governments of France, Russia, and China before going to war. The world’s only superpower can do that. It does it with bribery, promising a share in the spoils of war, and with arm-twisting and threats, using its enormous military-economic power. The U.S. government has just demonstrated how it can run roughshod over the UN Security Council, taking control over the handling of Iraq’s disarmament report.

The U.S. government already enforces “no-fly zones” in most of Iraq. It does this pretty much unilaterally (supported only by Britain). This no-fly war has already been unilaterally escalated into the opening stages of full-scale military attack.

The United Nations is not an antiwar organization. It is an organization created to help the world’s most powerful nations try to coordinate and smooth out conflicts in the sometimes violently competitive workings of imperialism.

The United Nations has no power that can stop its most powerful member from unilaterally going to war. We here in the United States especially have the obligation to oppose war crimes being committed in our name. We must directly demand that the U.S. government stop its ongoing war on Iraq.


UN Inspections Manipulated by U.S. Government

A Talk by Ex-Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter

I recently attended a talk in Salt Lake City by Scott Ritter, former chief weapons inspector for UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission), which has had charge of weapons inspections in Iraq since the 1990–1991 war. One of Ritter’s more noteworthy anecdotes was of being called back to UN headquarters in New York City for a meeting with, and run by, UNSCOM head Richard Butler. (I think Ritter said this was in 1998, not long before he resigned.)

Butler directed Ritter to escalate the confrontation with the Iraqi government—i.e., demanding inspection of Saddam Hussein’s “palaces”—in hopes of making a demand that the Iraqi government would refuse and thereby create a plausible pretext for military action because the U.S. government had already decided to bomb Iraq and had already chosen a certain window of time toward the end of the year!

I went to Ritter's talk curious to learn where he was coming from (as well as to distribute the newspaper War Times). I had seen news media accounts questioning Ritter's credibility because of his “flip-flop” on Iraq. I came away with the impression that Ritter had been determined to succeed in certifying that Iraq was disarmed but became increasingly frustrated as he experienced in practice that the U.S. government did not actually want to achieve that goal.

Now he is warning that it would be a big mistake for the U.S. government to launch a full-scale attack on Iraq on the alleged grounds that Iraq has “weapons of mass destruction.” He says that for all practical purposes Iraq was disarmed by 1998.

Ritter speaks as a “Republican who voted for George W. Bush,” a defender of the U.S. Constitution and the idea of a “government of laws, not men,” and a Marine Corps officer. He is viscerally offended by questioning of his patriotism.

Ritter has been criticized for using money provided by an Iraqi-American to produce an interesting film titled “In Shifting Sands: The Truth about UNSCOM and the Disarming of Iraq” and for arranging to speak in person to the Iraqi parliament a few months ago. In that September 8 talk Ritter appealed to the Iraqis to cooperate fully with the new round of inspections because the U.S. government was bent on war.