8.7.4 Applicability of the Law in the Iraq Situation

(This is a republished page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 2 book.  The original archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition02/874.htm)

Saddam Hussein’s failure to comply with weapons inspections was directly related to his assumption that political wrangling in the United Nations ( would prevent decisive action.  For several decades his assumption was correct.  International law should have been applied from 1980 onwards:

  • Preventing Iraq from invading Iran in the war of 1980-88 would have saved more than a million lives at that time and would also have sent a clear signal that international law is enforceable.
  • Iraq’s subsequent invasion of Kuwait in 1990 would then probably not have happened.

Failures to reach agreement in the UN had had the effect of weakening international law and allowing Iraq to be less law-abiding.

The American and British leaders openly declared that the WMD were their main concern and that they would try and obtain a ‘second Resolution’ before invading Iraq.[1]  Their efforts strengthened the public’s perception that this second Resolution was necessary, and most authorities agreed:

  • The United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, for example, subsequently said that the US-led invasion of Iraq was an illegal act that contravened the UN charter.[2]
  • In 2010 a Dutch panel concluded that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 had been illegal.[3]

Despite the balance of opinion being against them in their interpretation of international law, the American and British governments decided to proceed with the invasion.  America believed that it was the sole arbiter on matters relating to its security (8.4.2) and Britain made a dubious interpretation of the law (8.5.1).

Although both leaders had castigated Saddam Hussein’s record on human rights, that was not their principal concern.  Had they wanted to prevent him from further breaches they could have pursued him through the ICC ( (though it wasn’t very mature at that time, and America was ambivalent about it).

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014



[1] As publicly reported, for example on 10 March 2003 by the BBC in an article entitled France will use Iraq veto, both Blair and Bush were unsuccessfully trying to obtain a further UN Resolution to give Saddam Hussein a deadline to disarm.  This report was available in April 2014 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/2838269.stm.

[2] On 16 September 2004 the BBC published a report entitled Iraq war illegal, says Annan; this was available in April 2014 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/3661134.stm.

[3] On 12 January 2010 The Guardian published an article entitled Iraq war was illegal, Dutch panel rules; it was available in April 2014 at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/12/iraq-war-illegal-dutch-tribunal.