Thursday, June 23, 2005

Illegal provocations

A couple of weeks ago I read in New Statesman an article by Michael Smith about "the war before the war" - the secret bombing campaign carried out by US and British forces during late 2002 in an attempt to provoke Saddam into war and soften up his defences. The extent of this campaign was uncovered through Parliamentary questioning, and it is quite dramatic, as seen in the graph below of bombs dropped in the southern "no-fly zone":

Coalition bombing in the no-fly zone was basically flat until Bush decided to go to war, after which it increased steadily. This was characterised by Geoff Hoon, then Minister of Defence, as "'spikes of activity' to put pressure on the regime". In one such "spike",

more than a hundred allied aircraft attacked the H-3 airfield, the main air defence site in western Iraq. Located at the furthest extreme of the southern no-fly zone, far away from the areas that needed to be patrolled to prevent attacks on the Shias, it was destroyed not because it was a threat to the patrols, but to allow allied special forces operating from Jordan to enter Iraq undetected.

The Times has now picked up the story, but with a new angle: the Foreign Office had advised that the pre-war bombing campaign was illegal. According to legal advice given at the same Cabinet meeting at which Blair decided to back Bush, the American view that force could be used in the no-fly zones to pressure the Iraqi regime was not consistent with international law. The only justifications for force were self-defence, humanitarian intervention, and Security Council authorisation, none of which applied. Despite this advice, Britain continued to bomb Iraq in an effort to produce a casus bellum; Blair knew that there was no legal justification for this and that doing so violated international law - and yet he did it anyway. He willfully and deliberately violated international war so as to wage an illegal war of aggression. And now, he should go to The Hague for it.