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Breach of International Law: Iraq’s desperate struggle and US’ stubbornness

Author : Tharika Sai


The conflict between US and Iraq was a protracted armed conflict that began in 2003 with Iraq's invasion by the US-led coalition that overthrew the Saddam Hussein government. The conflict persisted for ten years as an insurgency emerged to resist the occupying force and the Iraqi government's invasion. Over millions of Iraqis were killed in the first three to four years of the conflict. However, US troops were withdrawn in 2011. Right after the Syrian civil war and the territorial gains in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Barack Obama's administration decided to redeploy US forces in Iraq in 2014. At the head of a new coalition, several soldiers are employed by defence contractors and private military companies, hence, reinvolving themselves in 2014. The Iraq war has killed thousands of people, mainly because of the conflict between 2004-2007. Later the Iraq- ISIL war in 2017, which was a subsequent effect of the previous war killed more people and led to the displacement of millions of people, and ever since the feud has continued to persist until now.


A US strike that killed two Iranian Generals Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad in the month of January, and the counter-strike by the Iranian military on US targets has casted serious doubts on the legitimate/legal use of force. When military force from the US was used against targets within its jurisdiction and territory of Iraq, its sovereignty was breached that very moment. Iran is a country caught in between US and Iraq, and as a result, has suffered and endured a lot due to the killing of two Iranian Generals. Following these weeks, thousands to millions of protestors have taken to streets in Iraq about the unfortunate incident. While a handful of them still protest against the government, quite the majority of them who are supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an anti American militant, a cross sectarian reformer, and not to mention; he is certainly seen as a hope for reform in Iraq, are demanding the withdrawal of US troops from the country.


The continued presence of US military troops and their refusal to withdraw troops is a breach of international law. Public international law has tight grip on laws revolving around the use of force and weapons. Article 2(4) of the UN charter strictly prohibits the use of force, except in circumstances of self-defence against an armed attack or a collective action, only when authorised by the UN Security Council. Apart from these clearly laid down laws, there are sporadic justifications of force being used legitimately in another country’s jurisdiction or territory. One such exception is a doctrine termed as “intervention by invitation” in which one country is given express consent to take military action in another country by the same country’s government. Besides such laws that explicitly prevent the use of force and also gives a number of exceptions to it, there are also laws that talk about the overstay of a State and how it leads to the breach of its international obligation. For example- the definition of aggression- a text adopted by the United Nations outlines what is considered as aggression under international law, lays out cases where the state intervening violates the conditions or extends its presence in another country, it amounts to the act of aggression. This law was used as a claim in a case between the Democratic Republic as Congo (DRC) and Uganda in the year 2005. DRC had claimed that Uganda’s continuous presence and use of force in the territory after there was no consent given by them, and that counted as aggression. However, in this specific case, the International Court of Justice ruled that Uganda’s actions were not aggressive, but on the other hand, it ruled that Uganda breached the UN Charter’s prohibition of force law as mentioned above. After this case, it was firmly confirmed and established that a country cannot maintain a military presence in another country after asking them to leave.

The presence of US troops in Iraq rounds back to the invasion in the year 2003 which overthrew Saddam Hussein’s government. Whatever the legal status of that conflict maybe, US forces’ presence has even legitimised since that point through the consent given by the Iraqi government. In the more recent past, the forces of both US and Iraq have taken conscious efforts to maintain friendly relations, as they work towards fighting the threat of the Islamic state together.

The proximity of Iraq’s relationship with the US is a part of a larger harmonisation.

Iraq also needs to take efforts to maintain a decent relationship with Iran, which has actually gotten closer after the fall of Saddam Hussein. After the attack of the two Iranian Generals in the recent past, the balance has taken a different turn. The country’s alliances are undergoing increased strain amidst the growing anti-US sentiment. After the US strike in January, which goes without saying, that it is considered a turning point in this war, the Parliament of Iraq voted on the presence of US troops in the country. MPs of the country passed a non-binding resolution that the Iraqi government should “Work to end the presence of any foreign land on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, airspace or water for any reason.”

During a phone call with the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, Iraq’s PM, Adel Abdul- Mahdi, requested US withdrawal. Instead of paying attention to the the Iraqi authorities’ decision, the US State department declared that they choose not to discuss about the withdrawal of US troops as their presence in Iraq was considered appropriate in their eyes. They did not find a reason to have a conversation between the US and Iraqi governments not just regarding security, but also about their financial, diplomatic and economic partnerships.


Despite the indubitable power the US holds over international relations, and policies, the country is certainly conditioned to international law. By repudiating to withdraw its troops from Iraq, US finds itself in a breach of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, as well as an act that counts as aggression. There is a serious danger of Iraq becoming a potential battleground for a conflict between Iran and the US to which it is not a party. Iraq being a country that is scarred and wounded by decades of conflict, now prefer to take any possible step to avoid the feud and bad blood with US , as soon as possible. It is now the duty of the US to oblige to international law and take into the consideration Iraq’s request. Both Iraq and US should take steps to not further escalate the conflict that is already disturbing world peace and security.

In conclusion, the one thing the international community should learn from this long existing quarrel is that everyone must abide by the rule of law in order to maintain peace and security across the globe. It is unfortunate to say that the US being one of the strongest countries in global power, it is taking advantage of its powerfulness to violate the law instead it should set an example to other countries on upholding the values and ideals of international law.

References :

[1] law

[2] mike-pompeo

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