US troops have raided the Iranian consulate in the Iraqi town of Irbil, arresting five members of the consular staff, and seizing documents and computers. This is both a deliberate provocation, and a serious violation of international law. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations provides that, among other things:
- "Consular premises shall be inviolable" (art 31.1);
- "The authorities of the receiving State shall not enter that part of the consular premises which is used exclusively for the purpose of the work of the consular post except with the consent of the head of the consular post or of his designee or of the head of the diplomatic mission of the sending State" (Art 31.2);
- "The consular archives and documents shall be inviolable at all times and wherever they may be." (Art 33); and
- "Consular officers shall not be liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of a grave crime and pursuant to a decision by the competent judicial authority" (Art 41.1)
The seriousness of this cannot be understated - attacks on diplomatic and consular premises have traditionally been regarded as casus bellum. When mobs stormed the Danish embassies in Beirut and Damascus last year, the US screamed bloody murder over the violation. And when Iranian students stormed the US embassy during the Iranian Revolution, they called it a "declaration of war on diplomacy itself". Now they've pissed all over the very laws they have sheltered behind in the past (and will no doubt try and shelter behind in the future). But then, isn't that contemporary American foreign policy in a nutshell?