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March 22, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
Legality of War Still Debated Worldwide
Despite Bush's Assessment, the Legality of War in Iraq Still Debated Worldwide

The Associated Press


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WASHINGTON March 22

The Bush administration says the war in Iraq is lawful, an assessment disputed by many skeptical foreign leaders and international law scholars.

It is a a debate that U.S. officials hope will subside once Saddam Hussein is toppled and a new government in power.

But the criticism is just as likely to intensify if the war is prolonged and if there are many civilian casualties.

Television images beamed around the world of the massive American aerial bombardment of Baghdad, showing dozens of buildings going up in flames, probably did not help the U.S. case in the court of public opinion, analysts suggested. Nor did pictures of angry Arabs protesting in the Middle Eastern, screaming "Death to America," or images U.S. troops briefly raising the American flag over a seized Iraqi city.

The administration says Iraqis will be better off once Saddam is removed and insists that its cause is just. Convincing the rest of the world that the U.S. and British-led war is both just and lawful is a hard sell.

"Without corresponding resolutions of the U.N. Security Council, this occupation will be illegal," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Russian lawmakers last week as U.S. and British troops crossed into Iraq.

Diane Orentlicher, professor of international law at American University, said that "most of the world believes that the war does violate international law."

Even so, the dynamics changed dramatically once bombs began falling, Orentlicher said. "It's not in anybody's interest to challenge a decision that's already been made, when there's no possibility for changing it," she said. "At this point, I think most countries see their common interest is in not having a long, bloody war."

The war can win belated international legitimacy, particularly if Iraq is found to have weapons of mass destruction as the administration contends, some analysts say.

That could turn public opinion in Washington's favor if accompanied by a military campaign "that goes relatively quickly and with low numbers of casualties," said Kurt Campbell of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The United States argues that U.N. resolution 1441, passed unanimously in November, provided sufficient authority for the U.S.-led war. That resolution threatened Baghdad with "serious consequences" if it failed to show it had handed over or destroyed its weapons of mass destruction.

Facing threatened vetoes by permanent Security Council members France and Russia, the United States and allies Britain and Spain withdrew a second resolution that would have given U.N. approval for the use of military force.

President Bush signaled that he did not want to waste time in debating the nuances of international law. "It is not a question of authority, it is a question of will," he told the nation.

The U.N. charter authorizes the Security Council to permit force "to maintain or restore international peace and security." It also allows nations to use force individually in cases of self-defense against an armed attack or against an imminent attack.

Critics of the war and some legal scholars argue Iraq did not pose such a threat to the United States.

Bush threatened war-crimes prosecution for Iraqi soldiers who followed illegal orders, but failed to grasp that the war itself violates international law, said Philip Alston, a law professor at New York University and former U.N. human rights official.

"It opens the door for every country to take the law into its own hands and launch pre-emptive military strikes without any universally binding restraints," Alston said.

The administration rejects such notions and says its position will be validated by both law and history.

"You're going to find the historians, legal scholars will have differing conclusions about these matters," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. He also said Bush decided to use force after concluding that "Iraq's failure to disarm presented a threat to the people of the United States."

EDITOR'S NOTE Tom Raum has covered Washington for The Associated Press since 1973, including five presidencies.


photo credit and caption:
A U.S. Marine from the15th Marine Expeditionary Unit is silhouetted in the sunset in a section of southern Iraq's desert Saturday, March 22, 2003. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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