Invading Iraq would be misguided and illegal

by Marjorie Cohn

Chicago Tribune, July 9, 2002  North Sports Final Edition.
Also at Letters to Voice of the People: ctc-tribletter@tribune.com

Although President Bush insists he has no plans on his desk to invade Iraq, the Pentagon's "war plan," leaked to The New York Times last week, reveals advanced planning for an air, land and sea-based attack. Striking Iraq would further destabilize the Middle East and have disastrous consequences for the United States. Moreover, there is no legitimate justification for attacking Iraq. The Pentagon plan would require 250,000 troops. "Anything short of a ground invasion would run a high risk of failure," says Philip Gordon of the Brookings Institution. But "removing Saddam [Hussein] will be opening a Pandora's box, and there might not be an easy way to close it back up," according to Gordon. Thousands of American soldiers would be killed, which is precisely what former President George Bush sought to avoid when he stopped short of Baghdad in 1991. John Nichol, of the British Royal Air Force, who was an Iraqi prisoner-of-war during the Gulf War, says "the death toll would have been massive" if the Western forces had marched into Baghdad to capture Hussein. Vice President Dick Cheney, who went to the Middle East recently to prime the Arab countries for a military strike against Iraq, found the Arabs much more concerned with ending the bloodshed in Israel. On March 28, the Arab League proposed a political settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. At the same time, the Arabs unanimously declared an attack on Iraq would be considered an attack against all Arab states.  The killing of Iraqis would result in even more virulent anti-American sentiment in the Arab world. If Iraq responded by attacking Israel, a world war pitting all Arab
states against Israel and its supporters might well erupt.  Moreover, an invasion of Iraq could have a devastating effect on the U.S. economy. Saudi Arabia, the world's largest supplier of oil, could lead the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in an oil embargo, and the price of oil could rise sharply, causing a recession. The CIA has been unable to link Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks. The alleged motivation for an invasion of Iraq is to destroy its weapons of mass destruction. However, Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector in Iraq, has said that "there is absolutely no reason to believe that Iraq could have meaningfully reconstituted any element of its WMD capabilities," since the Iraqis never succeeded in weaponizing their chemical and biological agents. Nor has Iraq developed nuclear capabilities. In spite of UN Security Council Resolution 687, which calls for the creation of a
weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone throughout the Middle East, the United States ignores Israel's stockpile of nuclear weapons. Invading Iraq would also violate international law. Under the UN Charter and Security Council Resolution 687, only the council is empowered to authorize the use of force in Iraq. No mandate for an invasion of Iraq has been forthcoming from the Security Council, whose veto-wielding members include Russia, China and France, all opposed to military action against Iraq. A pre-emptive strike against Iraq could not be justified as legitimate self-defense under the UN Charter, as Iraq has not attacked a UN country. Nor could it be rationalized as a humanitarian intervention. The precipitating factor for the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, is now absent. At the recent Arab summit, Iraq recognized Kuwait as an independent state and vowed not to invade it again. Despite the tragic cycle of violence in Israel, Bush has his sights set on Iraq. Five days after
being briefed on the Pentagon's war plan for Iraq,  Bush effectively jettisoned any chance of a U.S.-brokered Middle East peace  by demanding the ouster of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The United States must help to
achieve peace in Israel, not seek to make war on Iraq.   To do otherwise will likely visit upon the United States precisely the terror it seeks to avoid.

Marjorie Cohn is an associate professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.