Global Policy Forum

International Law Aspects of the Iraq War

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This section examines the legality of the 2003 US-UK war on Iraq. Shortly before the outbreak of hostilities, UN Secretary General stated that the use of force without Council endorsement would "not be in conformity with the Charter" and many legal experts now describe the US-UK attack as an act of aggression, violating international law.

Experts also point to illegalities in the US conduct of the war and violations of the Geneva Conventions by the US-UK of their responsibilities as an occupying power. The section also looks at wartime violations on the Iraqi side.



Iraq: Leaked Files Point to Serious Breaches of Human Rights Law - UN Rights Chief (October 26, 2010)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has stated that the leaked US documents on the war in Iraq point to serious breaches of international human rights law. Pillay is urging US and Iraqi authorities to investigate all the allegations, which include summary executions of civilians and torture of detainees, to bring to justice to those responsible. This would be in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other obligations to which both countries are parties.(UN News Centre)


UK Gov't Accused of Cover-Up over Iraq War Minutes (February 25, 2009)

The UK Government is refusing to disclose minutes taken during key governmental meetings preceding the US-UK invasion of Iraq in 2003. Activists are keen to gain access to the documents due to concerns about the impartiality of Peter Goldsmith, the UK's Attorney General and the cabinet's senior legal advisor. In 2003, apparently under pressure from Prime Minister Tony Blair, Goldsmith stated that invading Iraq was legal even without a second UN Security Council resolution. (Common Dreams)


US Declines to Free Reuters Photographer in Iraq (December 9, 2008)

The US refuses to accept the Iraqi Central Criminal Court's ruling to release a freelance photographer from the detention facility Camp Cropper. US and Iraqi forces detained photographer Ibrahim Jassam Mohammad in September 2008 and refused to provide any evidence to the Iraqi court for doing so. US military spokesman Major Fisher says the US military is "not bound" by the decisions from the Iraqi judicial system. (Reuters)

Top Judge: US and UK Acted as "Vigilantes" in Iraq Invasion (November 18, 2008)

Senior UK judicial figure, Lord Bingham, argues that the US and UK invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a serious violation of international law as there was no hard evidence that Iraq failed to disarm. UK opposition parties are pressing for an independent inquiry to scrutinize the actions of the government in the run up to the invasion. (Guardian)

MP Says Iraq Holds Thousands in Secret Prisons (October 31, 2008)

The number of Iraqi detainees in official US and Iraqi detention centers stands at 66,000 but Iraqi MP Mohammad Al-Dainy contends that this is only "one quarter of the total number being held" in Iraq. Al Dainy argues that Iraqi inmates suffer massive human rights violations in the hundreds of secret prison facilities throughout Iraq, many of which are jointly controlled by the US and Iraqi government. (Swissinfo)

Camp Bucca: Iraq's Guantanamo (October 17, 2008)

Nearly 20, 000 Iraqis in US detention centers continue to suffer from the US refusal to implement basic international law. The US denies Iraqi detainees the right to seek legal counsel and even refuses to consider evidence in the process of determining a prisoner's release. (The Nation)

US Detains Hundreds of Youth Suspects in Iraq (May 19, 2008)

The US military holds more than 500 juveniles in detention centers in Iraq, according to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The occupation force has held at least 2,500 children in detention centers since 2002, including eight in Guantanamo Bay. The author notes that the detention of children in adult detention centers violates US obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as accepted international human rights norms. (Associated Press)

Will Blackwater Be Rehired? (January 23, 2008)

Despite the controversy surrounding Blackwater and its killing of Iraqi civilians, the US State Department plans to renew a contract with the security firm. In addition to the immunity granted by the State Department, other factors impede the progress of prosecuting Blackwater guards in criminal offenses. Human rights organizations contend that the Bush administration lacks "the political will" to prosecute criminal cases against Blackwater, thereby creating a "culture of impunity." (Time)


Iraqis Challenge Britain's Right to Detain Them Indefinitely (November 3, 2007)

Lawyers acting for an Iraqi-British national held in Basra argue that the UK is manipulating international law to justify indefinite detention. The European Convention on Human Rights dictates that governments must either prosecute or release prisoners. But, the British government claims that its forces in Iraq operate under the UN Security Council mandate and not the Convention. The mandate provides for "internment where necessary for imperative reasons of security." International lawyers argue that the detainees are in an area controlled by Iraqi, and to a lesser extent, British forces and not the UN or its institutions. (Guardian)

America's Own Unlawful Combatants? (October 15, 2007)

In the aftermath of the September 2007 Blackwater shootings, lawyers for the US State, Justice and Defense departments debate whether private security contractors fall under the same broad definition of "unlawful combatants" which the Bush administration uses to justify detentions in Guantanamo Bay. Legal commentators criticize the Bush administration for failing to clarify the legal status of contractors before putting them into military roles. (Los Angeles Times)

Human Rights Law Applies in Iraq Killing, Lords Rule (June 13, 2007)

Ruling on the death of an Iraqi civilian in British custody, the House of Lords declared that the UK's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights apply to British troops in Iraq . The decision means that the Human Rights Act protects anyone held in British custody abroad and grants a right to life, a right not to be tortured and the right to access to a fair trial. Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, a close advisor to Tony Blair, had earlier ruled that human rights standards did not apply.(Guardian)

The Legacy of Fallujah (April 4, 2007)

During the sieges of Fallujah in 2004, the US used chemical weapons such as white phosphorus and a napalm derivative, causing indiscriminate harm and unnecessary suffering in the civilian population. Although the use of those weapons is banned under several international treaties and the Geneva Conventions, no government or the United Nations has condemned such acts and these crimes remain unpunished. Three years after the sieges, the population of Fallujah continues to face innumerable hazards, living with daily attacks and factional violence and having no access to clean water or health care. (Guardian)

Iraq Says British Raid Was a Violation (April 6, 2007)

British troops raided the National Iraqi Intelligence Agency in Basra, claiming the act aimed to capture a death squad leader and that they found 30 prisoners with signs of torture. However, the Iraqi government condemned the raid, saying it violated Iraqi sovereignty in contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 1546. According to a report by the Iraqi government, the British forces violated the orders of an Iraqi judge by arresting prisoners already in Iraqi custody and were negligent in allowing several prisoners to escape during the raid. (Associated Press)

Spanish Judge Calls for Architects of Iraq Invasion to Be Tried for War Crimes (March 27, 2007)

One of Spain's leading judges on war crimes and terrorism-related cases, Baltasar Garzon, ranks the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq among "the most sordid and unjustifiable episodes in recent human history." The judge criticizes US President George W. Bush and his allies, including British and Spanish Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Jose Maria Aznar, who supported the attack "despite having doubts and biased information." Garzon's condemnation of the leaders reflects growing disenchantment worldwide with the Iraq catastrophe. (World Socialist Web Site)

Four Years into the Occupation: No Health for Iraq (March 21, 2007)

This BRusssells Tribunal article points out that the conditions of Iraq's health system are deteriorating. According to the Iraq Medical Association, 90 percent of hospitals in Iraq lack essential equipment and 18,000 of 34,000 physicians left the country. Further, the report of the NGO Coordinating Committee in Iraq revealed that military forces occupied Mosul Hospital and ambulances have been attacked on a regularly basis in Najaf, Fallujah and other parts of Anbar province. US forces have been also intruding into hospitals daily and Iraqis have refrained from using hospitals for fear of being shot. The US occupation of Iraq has resulted in a massive public health disaster for Iraqis.

Armed Groups Occupy Hospitals and Kidnap Doctors (February 13, 2007)

A growing number of Iraqis have been refraining from using hospitals due to fear of being shot or arrested by insurgent groups and official forces. US troops intrude into hospitals on a daily basis, placing or looking for snipers on the roof and arresting doctors. According to an Iraqi doctor, "whatever we say they arrest us and treat us, doctors, as if we are terrorists. They take us for interrogation and threaten us. So, in reality, we face danger from the insurgents as well as from the [official] troops." This constitutes a violation of the Geneva Conventions, which state that hospitals are and should remain neutral and accessible to everybody, especially civilians. (Integrated Regional Information Networks)


The Courts Are Starting To Accept That the War against Iraq Is A Crime (October 17, 2006)

A British domestic court has ruled that the damage caused to military planes and equipment by two anti-war protestors was not illegal because the defendants sought "to prevent specific war crimes from being committed" in Iraq, where the planes and munitions would ultimately end up. Furthermore, in a German court an army major has successfully argued that the US and the UK did not legally invade Iraq, therefore he broke no laws in refusing to obey a military order. The author concludes that such decisions set a precedent for the recognition of the Iraq war as an act of aggression, and therefore a war crime – of which the British government should be very wary. (Guardian)

Bush and Saddam Should Both Stand Trial, Says Nuremberg Prosecutor (August 25, 2006)

A prosecutor of Nazi war crimes at Nuremberg, Benjamin Ferenccz, believes US President George W. Bush's aggressive war in Iraq constitutes a "supreme international crime" capable of prosecution in an international court. Claiming that the atrocities of the Iraq war were "highly predictable," Ferenccz points to the UN Charter, which unequivocally states that no nation can use armed force without UN Security Council permission. He convincingly argues that, due to his invasion of Iraq and the subsequent acts of the US military, Bush should face charges for war crimes along with Saddam Hussein. (OneWorld)

Iraqi Leaders Question US Troops' Immunity (July 6, 2006)

Iraqi leaders have called for a review of the US-implemented law that prevents prosecution of coalition forces in Iraqi courts. Following reports of several alleged atrocities by US troops against Iraqi civilians, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that immunity from prosecution encourages members of coalition forces to "commit such crimes in cold blood." This Washington Post article concludes that challenges to the immunity order could widen a rift between US and Iraqi authorities.

UN Security Council Should Ensure Full Accountability for Multinational Force Abuses (June 14, 2006)

In a statement ahead of a Council meeting reviewing the mandate of the Multinational Force (MNF), Amnesty International USA calls on the UN Security Council and the Iraqi government to hold to account "those who commit crimes under international law in Iraq, including members of the US-led MNF." Amnesty demands that the Council not extend the immunity from legal proceedings for abuses by the MNF or their contractors and concludes that "the Iraqi criminal justice system should be able to exercise jurisdiction over any crime committed in Iraq."

Iraq Tells UN it Wants Multinational Force to Stay (June 13, 2006)

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari has formally notified the UN Security Council that it wants the US-led multinational force (MNF) to remain in place. Resolution 1637 said the Council would terminate the MNF's mandate at the request of Iraq's government. The letter's release coincided with a five-hour visit to Baghdad by US President George W. Bush. (Reuters)

Letter from the Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations Addressed to the President of the Security Council (June 9, 2006)

Iraqi Minister for Foreign Affairs Hoshyar Zebari has requested that the Security Council extend the mandate of the Multinational Force (MNF) in Iraq, due for review in June. In a letter addressed to the President of the Council, Zebari thanked the MNF for its assistance in "providing security and stability in Iraq." Under Resolution 1637 (2005), the Council can terminate the force's mandate at any time if Iraq's government asks it to do so. In addition, Zebari welcomed the continuation of the current arrangements for the Development Fund for Iraq and the International Advisory and Monitoring Boards.

< Letter to the Security Council (May 19, 2006)

A group of 27 NGOs points out that the US-led Multinational Force (MNF) in Iraq has seriously violated international law, including bans on the use of torture, illegal detentions, siege tactics against population centers, and "indiscriminate and especially injurious" weapons. Furthermore, the MNF is responsible for failing to address patterns of corruption and mismanagement in Iraq's development fund and reconstruction programs. Citing numerous official reports and legal texts, the letter urges Council members to "substantially reconsider, revise or terminate" the MNF's mandate to bring it into conformity with international law. (Global Policy Forum)

A Safer Weapon, With Risks (May 18, 2006)

The US military has developed a laser weapon device for use in Iraq that temporarily blinds oncoming drivers approaching military checkpoints. The device, which can be attached to an M-4 rifle, was designed to allow soldiers to "dazzle" rather than fire at drivers who fail to stop. Though the military designed the device to reduce death and injury, human rights groups have criticized laser weapons, calling them cruel, unusual and illegal under Protocol IV of the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects. (Los Angeles Times)

NGO Letter to the Security Council on Iraq (March 14, 2006)

On the eve of the Security Council's quarterly discussion on the situation in Iraq, a group of NGOs has written the Council to voice their concern. Several disturbing reports have been released by Secretary General Kofi Annan, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), and human rights organizations. These reports have highlighted significant violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, especially in the area of detention practices. In response, the NGOs ask the Council to break its pattern of pro forma review, "accept its responsibility" and "substantially review the mandate it has given to the MNF."

Tortured Logic (February 28, 2006)

According to former US Army interrogator Anthony Lagouranis, mid- and low-level officials have shouldered all responsibility for prison abuse in Iraq, despite signals from high level officials justifying the use of torture. Interrogators routinely use dogs, hypothermia, and other "enhancements" while interrogating prisoners, despite clear violations of international law. Colonel Thomas Pappas, the top intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib, admitted authorizing such techniques without regard for the Geneva Conventions. Though US President George Bush has signed legislation banning torture, he asserts the right to interpret the legislation "in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the president" as justification for the continued use of torture. (New York Times)

Former UN Human Rights Chief in Iraq Says US Violating Geneva Conventions, Jailing Innocent Detainees (February 28, 2006)

In this interview, former United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) human rights chief John Pace discusses sectarian violence, US military operations, and the legality of the war. According to Pace, ongoing US military operations have led to widespread civilian displacement and destruction, and along with the rise in sectarian militias contribute most to instability in Iraq. Furthermore, US detentions violate the Geneva Conventions and as many as 90 percent of all Iraqi prisoners are innocent. "Normalization," Pace says, cannot go forward in Iraq so long as the US military occupation remains. (Democracy Now!)

Ocampo Turns Down Iraq Case: Implications for the US (February 2006)

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo announced that his office will not investigate war crimes committed in Iraq by coalition forces. The Bush administration has staunchly opposed the ICC claiming it will "unfairly target" US military personnel. Ocampo's decision gives evidence of the court's impartiality. (Citizens for Global Solutions)

Blair in Secret Plot with Bush to Dupe UN (January 29, 2006)

Leaked White House documents reveal that UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George Bush planned to invade Iraq regardless of whether or not they won UN approval. Though Blair has asserted that the final decision to invade was made only twenty-four hours before the war began, the leaked documents from a high-level meeting between Bush and Blair indicate that the decision was made before the Security Council discussed - but never adopted - a second resolution authorizing war against Iraq. (Mail on Sunday)

Accession through the Backdoor (January 2006)

When bullying fails, the US uses military force to further its trade agenda. On February 11, 2004, less than a year after the US invasion, Iraq was granted observer status at the World Trade Organization (WTO) while under the rule of Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority. Though not yet a WTO member, Iraq has steadily progressed in the secretive process of WTO accession thanks to heavy US prodding. UK Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith has warned that structural economic reforms, as imposed by the US occupation and required for WTO membership, "would not be authorized under international law." (Focus on the Global South)

Willy Peter (January 2006)

This article examines the US military's use of white phosphorus, an incendiary weapon commonly known as "Willy Peter," in the November 2004 attacks on Fallujah. Though white phosphorous munitions are banned under the 1980 Geneva Convention on Biological and Chemical Weapons, the US has not signed the agreement and instead classifies white phosphorous as a "psychological" weapon. As ZMag points out, there is nothing psychological about a weapon that melts skin to the bone while damaging the nervous system and blocking the circulation of blood.



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