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Obama on the brink: war or peace?

By Marjorie Cohn - posted Monday, 23 June 2014

Once again, we are poised on the brink of a war that could violate US and international law. President Obama faces a critical decision: will he meaningfully pursue a peaceful solution - even collaborating with Israel's archenemy Iran - or will he succumb to pressure from the hawks responsible for destabilizing Iraq during the misnamed "Operation Iraqi Freedom"?

The Crisis in Iraq and "Operation Iraqi Freedom"

After two horrific wars that killed millions of people, the countries of the world adopted the United Nations Charter "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war." Although the Charter is part of US law, President Obama is poised to violate it if he mounts a military attack on Iraq.


All hell has broken loose in Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its Sunni allies have taken control of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city; they control most of the western and northern sections of Iraq, and they're headed for Baghdad. Nearly 500 civilians have been killed and more than 1,600 have been wounded. Close to 53,000 people have been displaced from Anbar Province. The bloodshed is directly attributable to the illegal and ill-advised 2003 US-led invasion of - and regime change in - Iraq.

ISIS, a Syrian group, is a successor to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which did not even exist before "Operation Iraqi Freedom" destabilized Iraq and much of the Middle East, attracting extremist groups. The US-led war wreaked devastation on Iraq, killing tens of thousands of Iraqis and leaving untold numbers maimed. The war and punishing sanctions destroyed Iraq's infrastructure, leaving the country in shambles.

Saddam Hussein, who was deposed and later executed by US-supported forces, was a secular Sunni Muslim. Although a tyrant (like many of the dictators the United States has supported), he held Iraq together, preventing it from devolving into sectarian chaos.

"Operation Iraqi Freedom" was based on the lie that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that he would share with Al-Qaeda. The price of the US-led war there was astronomical. The Costs of War report, just issued by Brown University, found that the war in Iraq claimed 190,000 lives and will cost the United States at least $2.2 trillion. More than 70 percent, or about 134,000, of the dead were civilians. Of those killed, 4,488 were US troops, and at least 3,400 were US contractors (mercenaries). Moreover, the US government has spent $60 billion on reconstruction in Iraq, most of which has gone to the Iraqi military and police, not to rebuild the country's infrastructure.

"Operation Iraqi Freedom" also violated the United Nations (UN) Charter, which forbids a country from using military force against another country unless carried out in self-defense or with the blessing of the UN Security Council. Iraq had not attacked any country since it went into Kuwait in 1990, and the Security Council did not sanction the 2003 US-led attack on Iraq. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld mounted a war of aggression in Iraq, a crime the judges at Nuremberg called "the supreme international crime."

Repression by al-Maliki


The US-led invasion of Iraq helped install Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, as prime minister. But instead of uniting the different religious groups after the US troops left two and a half years ago, the al-Maliki government viciously cracked down on its opponents. Torture, rape and arbitrary, mass arrests of Sunnis were common. Protestors were murdered, their leaders assassinated. What began as a peaceful opposition movement during the "Iraqi Spring" turned violent in response to al-Maliki's repression. Many of those nonviolent protestors have joined ISIS.

Some Republicans argue that Obama should have kept our troops in Iraq instead of withdrawing them two years ago in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) the Bush administration negotiated. In fact, Obama, who later took credit for pulling US troops out of Iraq, tried to negotiate a new SOFA with the Iraqi government to postpone our departure. However, al-Maliki refused to continue to grant US soldiers immunity for any criminal or civil wrongs they might commit. This followed Chelsea Manning's publication of the "Collateral Murder Video," which depicted the commission of war crimes by US forces in Iraq.

More US intervention in Iraq?

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About the Author

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, past president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her latest book is "The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse." See

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