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War Crimes and the Acts of War; Four Years after the Fall of Baghdad

anniversary.jpgThe regime of Saddam Hussein fell on April 9, 2003; four years ago today. The anniversary was marked with peaceful protests calling for US forces to abandon their "occupation" of Iraq. The most vocal protests were affiliated with Muqtada al-Sadr, a powerful Shi'ite cleric. Al-Sadr's supporters made varying statements calling for US withdraw and expressing hopes that the fifth year anniversary of the fall of Baghdad would be marked by a more independent and liberated Iraq. US military officials in Iraq noted the peaceful nature of the protests and pointed out that the rights to assemble and freedom of expression were unavailable under Saddam's regime.

A cascading series of UN Security Council resolutions culminated in the adoption of Resolution 1441, which found Iraq in "material breach" of past resolutions and warned of "serious consequences" of continued violations. The UN resolutions following the invasion of Kuwait called for Iraq to end its nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs, and end its repression against opposition groups, among other things. On December 20th, 2001, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution stating Iraq's continued violations pose a threat to peace and US national security. Iraq finally submitted to the declarations of Resolution 1441 by allowing UN weapons inspectors access to military facilities. War Crimes and the Acts of War; Four Years after the Fall of BaghdadWhile UN inspections teams did not find Iraq to be in material breach of past resolutions, the Bush administration saw inexcusable gaps compared to US intelligence reports. Following a failed UN mandate for the use of force, on March 17th, 2003, President Bush issued an ultimatum to Saddam to leave Iraq or face military action. On March 19th, 2003, the US military embarked on Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) and the regime of Saddam Hussein ultimately fell on April 9th. In regards to OIF, President Bush stated; "our mission is clear, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people."

OIF encompassed a massive military assault on the capital of Iraq, Badghdad, in a campaign coined "shock and awe." The US military display in Iraq has been met with wide international condemnation. Collateral damages associated US military actions in Iraq are staggering. The continued use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium by US military forces are in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The policy regarding treatment at US detention facilities in Iraq is also equivalent of formal atrocities according to international law. Technically speaking, the top echelons of the Bush administration are guilty of war crimes. However, the fog of war, as any fog, leaves the lines of good and evil difficult to see.

War Crimes and the Acts of War; Four Years after the Fall of BaghdadIraq has had a fully active chemical weapons program that it used against its own citizens and against other nations. Members of the former regime have been accused, tried, and found guilty of genocide and mass atrocities in response to uprisings by various ethnic and political factions. For example, on March 16 and 17, Saddam Hussein was implicit in the largest chemical attack against civilian populations in modern times in the city of Halabja. It is estimated that roughly 5,000 people were killed by the use of chemical weapons.

Allegations of Iraq's use of chemical and biological weapons were widespread during the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980's. According US State Department reports, the use of chemical weapons by Iraqi forces was a daily occurrence, and a UN report concludes Iraq had used mustard gas and nerve agents against Iranian soldiers. However, various reports also indicate that the precursors to chemical weapons used by the Iraqi military, as well as their delivery systems, were supplied by various Western nations, including the United States. Throughout the mid-1980's, the US Center for Disease Control sent samples of West Nile virus, anthrax, and botulinum to Iraq, and the US Commerce department allowed the export of equipment to increase the range and efficiency of Iraqi SCUD's. Several dual-use agents were sold to the Iraqi's with a certain degree of regularity and in 1989, the Central Intelligence Agency acknowledged that Iraq was the world's largest producer of chemical weapons.

War Crimes and the Acts of War; Four Years after the Fall of BaghdadWhen examining the past behavior of any regime, it is important to examine the difference between an act of war and a war crime. The US actions in Iraq and its policies during the global "war on terror" may be viewed by any observer to be in grave violation of the laws of war. Equally, any number of actions committed by Saddam Hussein's regime may be viewed on par with the most brutal expressions of violence in modern history. The gravest atrocities of mankind are often associated with great power. When determining the acts of war and acts of atrocity, just war arguments are of ethical worth by either side. The destruction of mankind, however, regardless of the party and regardless of the cause, leaves innocent blood on the pages of history.

Historical narrative derived from Congressional Research Service Issue Brief IB92117, The Center for Cooperative Research, and here.



Daniel Graeber

Daniel Graeber is a writer for United Press International covering Iraq, Afghanistan and the broader Levant. He has published works on international and constitutional law pertaining to US terrorism cases and on child soldiers. His first major work, entitled The United States and Israel: The Implications of Alignment, is featured in the text, Strategic Interests in the Middle East: Opposition or Support for US Foreign Policy. He holds a MA in Diplomacy and International Conflict Management from Norwich University, where his focus was international relations theory, international law, and the role of non-state actors.

Areas of Focus:International law; Middle East; Government and Politics; non-state actors