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Military Action

In November 2002 the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted resolution (UNSCR) 1441, where all members of the Security Council stated their belief that Iraq had not complied with Council resolutions, including on disarmament, and had proliferated weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and long-range missiles that posed a threat to international peace and security.

UNSCR 1441 gave Iraq one final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations, by giving up once and for all its WMD and the means to deliver them. The burden was placed squarely on Iraq, including a requirement to co-operate fully with the weapons inspectors and make a currently accurate, full and complete declaration of its WMD holdings.

Unfortunately, Saddam Hussein chose not to take the opportunity offered to him: his regime failed to give the UN weapons inspectors the full, active and immediate co-operation that the international community demanded. In almost four months of inspections, the regime failed to answer a single outstanding question about its WMD programmes, or resolve any outstanding issues as requested by the UN.

The UK Government’s decision to take military action to enforce Iraq's disarmament obligations, in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, was taken as a last resort. The Iraqi regime’s refusal to co-operate left us with no option. The Government’s decision was supported by a large majority in the House of Commons on 18 March 2003.

Q:  What was the legal basis for military action?
A:  Authority to use force against Iraq derived from the combined effect of UN Security Council resolutions 678, 687 and 1441; and all of these resolutions were adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows the use of force for the express purpose of restoring international peace and security.

See also:

This is an external link The Attorney General's legal advice (Number 10 website)

PDF The Attorney General's Written Answer of 17 March 2003 setting out his view of the legal basis for the use of force against Iraq.  (PDF, 16 KB)
PDF Letter and enclosure of 17 March 2003 from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to The Rt Hon Donald Anderson MP, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee: Iraq: Legal Position Concerning the Use of Force.  (PDF, 628K)

Q:  What comments did the Attorney General make on 27 April 2005 following the release of parts of his legal advice?
A:  'The document, published by Channel 4 News, so far from standing up the case of the Government's critics, stands up the case the Government has been making all along. Contrary to the allegations that have persistently been made, it does not say the war was unlawful but confirms the conclusion I reached was that a sufficient basis for the use of force was established without a second resolution.

'What this document does, as in any legal advice, is to go through the complicated arguments that led me to this view. Far from showing I reached the conclusion that to go to war would be unlawful, it shows how I took account of all the arguments before reaching my conclusion.

'The document also makes it clear that the legal analysis might be altered by the course of events over the next week or so. Between 7th March and 17th March 2003, I asked for and received confirmation of the breach of UN Security Council Resolutions. It was also necessary to continue my deliberations as the military and civil service needed me to express a clear and simple view whether military action would be lawful or not. The answer to the question was it lawful, yes or no, was, in my judgement, yes. And I said so to Government, to the military, to Cabinet and publicly.'

Q:  What efforts did the UK make to obtain UN Security Council agreement?
A:  The UK government did more than any to find a peaceful solution. When it became clear that Saddam Hussein had chosen not to take the opportunity presented to him in resolution 1441, we worked for Security Council consensus on dealing with Iraq. In February 2003, the UK, US and Spain tabled a further draft resolution. We said it was not a question of increasing the numbers of weapons inspectors, or of allowing more time for Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime to bring themselves into compliance. We stressed that what was needed was an irreversible and strategic decision by Iraq to disarm, and to disclose all the relevant information which it could and should have given in the last 12 years.

We acknowledged that, were the regime to co-operate in this way, the weapons inspectors would of course need more time to complete their work, to verify the disarmament. We proposed tough but realisable tests and a timetable for completion of those tests. In line with resolution 1441, we also sought an understanding that, if Iraq failed those tests, it would not have taken the final opportunity which had been afforded to it.

In all the discussions in the Security Council and outside, no one put forward any evidence that Iraq was in compliance with the obligations placed upon it. And with good reason. Iraq had simply not accounted for the thousands of tonnes of chemical and biological weapons materials left unaccounted for when the regime forced the weapons inspectors to leave in 1998. The regime's tactics were to deny the existence of weapons of mass destruction and, if caught out, to offer the smallest concession possible in order to work for delay.

Despite all the UK's efforts in the UN and outside, in the end the Security Council could not unite to give Iraq a serious ultimatum to comply with its demands or face military action.

Given this situation, we did not pursue a vote on the draft UK/US/Spanish resolution tabled on 24 February 2003, and the co-sponsors reserved the right to take their own steps to secure the disarmament of Iraq – to oblige Iraq to comply with the international community’s will. We did not think it right to wait indefinitely for Iraqi compliance.

Q:  So what about the need for the Security Council to discuss/agree a further resolution?
A:  It is the Government's consistently held view that a further resolution would have been desirable, but was not a legal requirement. As the Attorney General's written answer of 17 March 2003 to a Parliamentary Question made clear, and as is evident in the text of UN Security Council resolution 1441, all that was required was reporting to and discussion by the Security Council of Iraq's failures, but not an express further decision to authorise force.

Q:  Doesn't failure to find WMD destroy the case for military action against Iraq?
A:  The failure to find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction does not change the fact that the Security Council had repeatedly determined that Iraq was a threat to international peace and security, most recently in UN Security Council resolution 1441. Iraq was in breach of 23 out of 27 obligations laid out in nine UNSCRs. This included all 14 of its weapons of mass destruction obligations, as well as its obligations to renounce terrorism and cease internal oppression. What we all knew, confirmed countless times by UN inspectors, was that Iraq had had extensive weapons of mass destruction programmes, had co-operated as little as possible in dismantling them, had failed to account for huge quantities of materials, and was set to defy the international community indefinitely.

Q:  UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that military action was illegal?
A:  Kofi Annan has made clear his views on the legality of military action. We have deep respect for the UN Secretary-General but in this case we do not agree.

Q:  What was done to avoid civilian casualties?
A:  The UK conducted a carefully targeted military campaign within the constraints of international law. During the course of military operations, Coalition forces went to extraordinary lengths to minimise civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure, including water, electricity and sanitation facilities.

Q:  How many civilian deaths have been caused as a result of military operations and insurgent activity since 2003?
A:  All civilian deaths are a tragedy and of concern in Iraq. However, there are conflicting estimates from a number of sources, both within the Iraqi government and independent NGOs, and no comprehensive or accurate figures. Maintaining records of civilian deaths in Iraq is ultimately a matter for the Government of Iraq and we believe they are best placed to monitor the situation.

Q:  How many British Soldiers have died as a result of military operations in Iraq?
A:  Please see the Ministry of Defence's Operations in Iraq: British Fatalities fact sheet.

Q:  What are military operations costing in Iraq?
A:  Please see the Ministry of Defence's Operations in Iraq: Key Facts & Figures fact sheet.

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