Force Without Law: Seeking a Legal Justification for the September 1996 U.S. Military Intervention in Iraq

This note concludes that none of the various legal arguments offered in support of the September 1996 military intervention against Iraq adequately justifies U.S. actions under international law and that in fact international law was never a real concern in planning, implementing, or even justifying the intervention. Part I relates the general history of the “Kurdish problem” and the particulars of the incident under scrutiny. This Part then goes on to describe the aftermath of the intervention and its failure to achieve any of the stated goals of the United States. Part II addresses the general validity under international law of military intervention in internal affairs of sovereign states, with particular attention to humanitarian intervention, and concludes that the intervention was contrary to international law. Part III explores the UN position on military intervention, conduct authorized under UN resolutions regarding Iraq and the Kurds, and the legal parameters of the no-fly zones in Iraq, concluding that the intervention was not a valid enforcement of UN policies or resolutions. Part IV critiques the apparent U.S. belief that it can override generally accepted norms of international law by defining its concerns as national security issues. Finally, Part V looks to the practical impact of international law in this matter and what the intervention and its aftermath, including widespread condemnation of the U.S. action, reveal about the geopolitical realities of international law.