On Tuesday, June 19, twenty-three people were killed on a soccer field in Iraq. Twenty-one of those killed were under the age of 17. Twelve more were injured; eleven of them are under 17. Since then there have been questions regarding which country fired the missile. The United States and Britain, which patrol the "no fly zones", deny that they fired any missiles on that day. Iraq says the US or Britain did bomb. The US and Britain countered that if there was a bombing, it must have resulted from a malfunctioning surface-to-air missile fired by Iraq. Even if Iraq fired the missile, the US and Britain are not absolved of guilt.
Under a legal theory called "depraved heart murder", if the perpetrator of an inherently dangerous crime such as robbery initiates a gun fight, and a police officer shoots back, killing a bystander, the prosecutor may argue that the burglar behaved with reckless indifference to the value of human life (thus making him guilty of "depraved heart murder"). Whether the missile that killed those people in Iraq was fired by US, British, Iraqi, or other forces is irrelevant, because it is the US and Britain that, through their illegal acts, have created this dangerous situation. But for the US and Britain's imposed illegal presence, this catastrophe would not have occurred.
The "no fly zones" are illegal under international law, and are an inherently dangerous crime of the magnitude to make the US and Britain guilty of depraved heart murder for the deaths of the young people on that soccer field in Iraq. The no-fly zones are not authorized by the UN and are not specifically sanctioned by any Security Council resolution.
The northern "no-fly zone" was imposed at the end of the gulf war in March 1991, allegedly to protect Kurds against further Iraqi military action which had driven huge numbers of people across the borders into Turkey and Iran.
Reports have come to light recently, particularly from British warplane pilots, that their morale for patrolling the zone has waned. They report that they are at times called out of the zones, only to see Turkish planes flying in, and then upon the return of the British planes, they see smoke and destruction in Kurdish areas. Just a few months ago, Turkish warplanes bombed and killed several Kurds in the North of Iraq, and the U.S. government and press did not blink an eye.
With regard to the southern "no fly zone", Iraqi aircraft were also prohibited from flying over the southern half of their country, allegedly in order to hamper President Hussein's operations against the Shi'a population. However, when Shiites attempted to rise up in 1991 after the war, they were slaughtered by Saddam Hussein's army under the unblinking eye of U.S. forces. Since that time, many Iraqi civilians have died in the southern "no fly zone" as a result of US/British bombing, including a massacre in Al Jumhuriya, a particularly poor neighborhood of Basra. On January 25, 1999, seven people were killed, most of them children, when a US fighter pilot fired a missile into the neighborhood. Even the US and British military do not deny that these types of bombings in the "no fly zones" occur routinely, on a weekly basis.
The U.S. government has argued in the past that the underlying legal basis allowing the imposition of the "no fly zones" was supplied by UNSCR 678. This was the resolution set up under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter that authorized the original use of force to expel Iraq from Kuwait. According to the US government, as a result of the wording in the preamble of 678 "to restore international peace and security in the area", the use of force against Iraq can continue.
The US has also argued that its action is consistent with Security Council Resolution 688 adopted on 5 April 1991. However, the resolution did not say the Security Council was acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides for enforcement action. Nor did it say that "any means necessary" could be used.
US and British military officials have maintained that the purpose of the "no fly zones" is entirely humanitarian. The crux of the argument is that under international law, there is a right to intervene to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. Proponents of this argument point out that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has attacked Iraqi ethnic groups in the past, specifically when he used chemical weapons to kill 5,000 Kurdish villagers in the late 1980s (when he was the US's ally, and the US looked the other way upon learning of the gassing of the Kurds).
There is, in fact, no authorization to impose or enforce the "no-fly zones". Though UNSCR 678 gave the U.N. the authority to use force to remove Iraq from Kuwait, UNSCR 687 subsequently established a cease-fire, terminating the earlier authorization to use force. If the United States and Britain wanted to use force, they would need a new resolution explicitly authorizing it. The use of force requires an explicit United Nations Security Council Resolution. (China and Russia have condemned the no-fly zones as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, and they insist there is no backing for the policy under international law or UN resolutions.) The UN charter, the foundational document for international law, provides for military action by one member state against another only when a state is under direct armed attack. In all other situations, nations must first appeal to the Security Council to resolve disputes, and only the Security Council can authorize the use of force. Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states that treaties are the supreme law of the land. It is up to citizens of the US to require our government to comply with international law. It seems to have been lost that the UN was established to prevent war, not to be used as a cover for one or two extremely powerful countries to patrol oil reserves.
The bottom line is this: once again, common people have paid the price in Iraq. A group of innocent bystanders--- teenagers playing soccer--- have suffered and died because the US and Britain insist upon controlling the second largest oil reserve on Earth, by whatever means they deem necessary.
Tom Jackson works for Voices in the Wilderness, a campaign to stop the sanctions against Iraq. He has a JD from Vermont Law School.