This past week, the US-British airstrikes on southern Iraq killed 17 Iraqi civilians and wounded 17 others. According to the Iraqi news agency, the dead comprised mainly women, children and the elderly.
Contrary to the US-British position, airstrikes violate Iraq's sovereign air space and are therefore a gross violation of the U.N. charter and international law. Agreement on this has come from analysts such as University of Illinois Professor of Law Francis Boyle, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and others. In addition, the other three permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- Russia, France and China -- recognize the need for respecting Iraq's legal right to maintain sovereignty over its air space. In that spirit, they all condemned the massive U.S.-British assaults that ravaged Iraq in December 1998.
The United States and its Western allies set up the two no-fly zones in the southern and the northern parts of Iraq after the Gulf War in 1991. Their stated goal was to protect the Shiite Muslims and ethnic Kurdish minorities from Iraqi forces. But what these zones have become are shooting galleries for the Iraqi people who, after nine years of strangling sanctions, are starved, isolated from the rest of the world and kept under the perpetual threat of bombing.
With reference to last week's attacks, Russia immediately registered a condemnation. Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Vladimir Rakhmanin, characterized the continued attacks on Iraq as "a crude violation of fundamental norms of international law." He also called the no-fly zones over southern Iraq a violation of Iraq's sovereignty, saying that, in order to control Iraq's air space, the United States and United Kingdom had arbitrarily set up the no-fly zones on the pretext of protecting civilians without the approval of the UN Security Council.
A French Foreign Ministry spokesperson conveyed France's uneasiness over the bombings while the Arab League Secretary General, Esmat Abdel-Meguid, called for an end to the crippling international economic sanctions on Iraq and underlined the necessity for respecting Iraq's sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in its domestic affairs. China was conspicuous in its silence.
But it should not require condemnations and exhortations from diplomats for people to realize that, in essence, airstrikes represent an undeclared war on Iraq, a low intensity killing-spree.
Most disturbing is the pattern of denial of killing by the U.S. military authorities. We saw how they repeatedly denied having killed any people with their smart bombs in Iraq and elsewhere until they were exposed with irrefutable evidence.
In the wake of last week's killings of the Iraqi civilians, the U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen gave the same response. He said there was no evidence that civilians were killed in the U.S. bombing. He added, "Once again Saddam continues to pose a threat to our pilots, who will respond accordingly. We have received no information that civilians were hit.'' Earlier, on June 8, 1999, when U.S.-British airstrikes in northern Iraq killed an Iraqi civilian named Hadi Khader Daoud, the U.S. military stated that the warplanes struck only military communications facilities.
So the U.S.-British airstrikes on Iraq are not only illegal; they fit the pattern of the U.S. administration's bullying, illogical and outrageous behavior. The United States and Great Britain do not care about respecting international law nor do they care about the lives of civilians.
What can force the US government to respect international law are the American people. It is past due that Americans of all backgrounds strongly told the government to behave and uphold justice. The airstrikes must end now.
Mohammad A. Auwal is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Los Angeles and is a regular columnist for iviews.com