Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

The UN Security Council and the Iraq war

In March 2003 the US government announced that "diplomacy has failed" and that it would proceed with a "coalition of the willing" to rid Iraq of its so-called "weapons of mass destruction". The 2003 Iraq war officially started a few days later.

Prior to this decision, there had been a good deal of diplomacy and debate amongst the members of the UN Security Council over whether there should be a war in Iraq. This article examines the positions of these states as they changed over the period 2002-2003.

Prior to 2002, the UN Security Council had passed sixteen resolutions on Iraq. In 2002, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1441 on Iraq unanimously. In 2003, the US, UK, and Spanish governments proposed another resolution on Iraq, which they called the "eighteenth resolution" and everyone else called the "second resolution". This proposed resolution was subsequently withdrawn. If it had been passed it would have become Resolution 1442.

Table of contents
1 Positions of Security Council members
2 Colin Powell's presentation
3 Report of Hans Blix on February 14
4 Report of Hans Blix on March 7
5 See also

Positions of Security Council members

United States

The US feels that Iraq is not cooperating with UN inspectors and has not met its obligations to 17 UN resolutions. The US feels that resolution 1441 called for the immediate, total disarmament of Iraq - and has continued to show frustration at the fact that months after the resolution was passed - Iraq is still not disarming.

United Kingdom

Within the United Nations Security Council , the United Kingdom has been the primary supporter of the U.S. plan to invade Iraq. Tony Blair, the British prime minister, publicly and vigorously supports American policy on Iraq, but is perceived by some to exert a moderating influence on the American president George W. Bush. British public opinion polls in late January showed that the public support for the war had fallen to about 30%, although by March support it had risen above 50%. Britain supported the proposed UN resolution on Iraq.


On January 20, 2003, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said, "We think that military intervention would be the worst possible solution," although France believes that Iraq may have an ongoing chemical and nuclear weapons program. Villepin went on to say that he believed the presence of UN weapons inspectors had frozen Iraq's weapons programs. France has threatened the potential membership of future EU members that fail to support the country's position. France has also suggested that it will veto any future resolution offered by the U.S. or Britain, even if a majority of the U.N. Security Council members vote for it. Britain and the U.S. sharply criticized France for this position in March, 2003.


On January 22, German chancellor Gerhard Schröder at a meeting with French president Jacques Chirac said that he and Mr. Chirac would do all they could to avert war. At the time, Germany is presiding over the Security council.


On the same day, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that "Russia deems that there is no evidence that would justify a war in Iraq." On January 28, however, Russia's opinion had begin to shift following a report the previous day by UN Inspectors which stated that Iraq had cooperated on a practical level with monitors, but had not demonstrated a "genuine acceptance" of the need to disarm. Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that he would support a US led war if things did not change and Iraq continued to show a reluctance to completely cooperate with inspection teams. However, Putin continued to stress that the US must not go alone in any such military endeavor, but instead must work through the UN Security Council. He also stressed the need for giving the UN inspectors more time.


China supports continued weapons inspections. On January 23, the Washington Post reported that the Chinese position was "extremely close" to France's.


Angola supports continued inspections, but has not yet taken a stand on disarmament by military action.


Bulgaria has suggested that it would support the use of military force to disarm Iraq, even without UN backing.


Cameroon has encouraged the continued inspections, but has not taken a firm stand on whether or not the country would support a US led strike to liberate Iraq.


Chile has indicated that it would like inspections to continue, but has not taken a position on the use of military force to disarm Iraq.


Guinea has supported further inspections, but has not taken a position on the use of military force to disarm Iraq.


Mexico has supported further inspections, and has indicated that it would support a US led military campaign if it was backed by the UN. The Country has hinted that it might consider supporting a military campaign without UN backing as well.


Pakistan supports continued inspections.


Syria seems to feel that Iraq is cooperating and meeting its obligations under UN resolutions. Syria would like to see UN sanctions on Iraq lifted.


Spain supports the US's position on Iraq and supports the use of force to disarm Iraq, even without UN approval.


According to Britain, a majority of the U.N. Security Council members supported its proposed 18th resolution which gave Iraq a deadline to comply with previous resolutions, until France announced that they would veto any new resolution that gave Iraq a deadline.

In the mid 1990s, Germany, France and Russia began to break from the rest of the U.N. Security Council and ask for sanctions on Iraq to be lifted. UNSCOM inspectors noted in their official records that, around this time, these three countries were becoming more interested in business deals with Iraq than disarming the country. On a number of occasions throughout the 1990s, The U.S. and other countries began to discuss military action against Iraq to force the country to comply with the 16 U.N. resolutions that it agreed to. Germany, France and Russia completely opposed military action in each case.

Many people feel that in the case of Germany, France and Russia, their ties to Iraq may be pulling them away from the US's position. All three countries have major oil deals and economic ties to the country, and are suffering from faltering economies, and some fear that the possibility of a new regime in Iraq could cause these deals to unravel. For example, direct two-way trade between Germany and Iraq amounts to about $350 million annually, while another $1 billion is sold via third countries, according to Iraqi authorities. Iraq owes Russia somewhere around $8 billion. China also has oil contracts with Iraq. France, on the other hand, has had major financial ties to Iraq since the 1970s and is poised to win contracts to drill in Iraq's southern Majnoon and Nahr Umar oil fields, the largest unexploited oil reserves in the world. These deals, which are in the works with the Saddam Hussein regime, are in jeopardy if Hussein is removed from power.

Following the fall of Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, documents were found in the headquarters of the Iraqi intelligence service detailing Russia's support for Iraq leading while debates were going on in the U.N. Security Council. Some of the documents showed that Russia was providing information to Baghdad on private conversations between Prime Minister Tony Blair and other Western leaders. According to the documents, Russia also provided the Hussein government with lists of assassins available for "hits" in the West and details of arms deals to neighbouring countries. One document, dated March 12, 2002, appears to confirm that Saddam Hussein still had an active nuclear weapons program. According to the documents, Russia warned Iraq that if the country did not comply with the United Nations Resolutions it would give the United States "a cause to destroy any nuclear weapons". [1]

Some have also questioned Jacques Chirac's connection with Hussein beyond its economic ties. Chirac had become good friends with Hussein in late 1974. In the 1970s, Chirac became jokingly known as "Jacques Iraq" in some newspapers.

The Weekly Standard, recently translated some very revealing quotes from Saddam Hussein in a 1992 French book, entitled Notre Allié Saddam (Our Ally Saddam). Following the 1991 Gulf War, Hussein felt betrayed by the French government for supporting the US. The books authors asked Hussein if "Iraq financially supported French politicians and political parties?" Hussein's answered with a warning: "The question must be put to French politicians: Who did not benefit from these business contracts and relationships with Iraq? ... With respect to the politicians, one need only refer back to the declarations of all the political parties of France, Right and Left. All were happy to brag about their friendship with Iraq and to refer to common interests. From Mr. Chirac to Mr. Chevenement... politicians and economic leaders were in open competition to spend time with us and flatter us. We have now grasped the reality of the situation (France's support for the 1991 Gulf War, a betrayal in Hussein's eyes). If the trickery continues, we will be forced to unmask them, all of them, before the French public."

However, these arguments ignore the fact that the absolute size of these current ties with Iraq are in many cases be small as a percentage of their overall economies. For example, France's current trade with Iraq accounts for only one half or one percent of its overall trade.

Furthermore, such arguments ignore the fact that it is not just the French government that has opposed war with Iraq, but also a large percentage of the French people. Some polls show that as many as 80% of the French people oppose war. Since taking a stand against war, French President Jacques Chirac's popularity in his own nation has soared. The French have historically experienced the horrors of war to a significant degree, for example having lost 1.4 million lives in World War I. On the other hand, US leaders, including President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, avoided the line of fire during while their own nation was at war, and thus have no firsthand experience with the horrors of war [1].

Many people also feel that many of the governments that have aligned themselves with the US, despite strong opposition among their constituencies, have done so because of their own economic ties to the United States. The United States has used strong pressure and threats against other nations to attempt to coerce nations on the Security Council to support them. For example, Mexican diplomats have complained that talks with American officials have been "hostile in tone", and have shown little concern for the Mexican government's need to accommodate the overwhelmingly antiwar sentiment of its people. One Mexican diplomat reported that the US told them that "any country that doesn't go along with us will be paying a very heavy price." [1]

The Institute for Policy Studies published a report [1] analyzing what it calls the "arm-twisting offensive" by the United States government to get nations to support it. Although President Bush described nations supporting him as the "coalition of the willing", the report concludes that it is more accurately described as a "coalition of the coerced." According to the report, most nations supporting Bush "were recruited through coercion, bullying, and bribery." The techniques used to pressure nations to support the United States include a variety of carrots and sticks including:

At a press conference, the White House press corps broke out in laughter when Ari Fleischer denied that "the leaders of other nations are buyable".

In addition to the above tactics, the British newspaper The Observer published an investigative report revealing that the National Security Agency of the United States was conducting a secret surveillance operation directed at intercepting the telephone and email communications of several Security Council diplomats, both in their offices and in their homes. This campaign, the result of a directive by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, was aimed primarily at the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan. The investigative report cited an NSA memo which advised senior agency officials that it was "'mounting a surge' aimed at gleaning information not only on how delegations on the Security Council will vote on any second resolution on Iraq, but also 'policies', 'negotiating positions', 'alliances' and 'dependencies' - the 'whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favourable to US goals or to head off surprises'." The authenticity of this memo has been called into question by many in the US and it is still unclear as to whether or not it is legitimate. [1] The story was carried by the European and Australian press, and served as a further embarrassment to the Bush administration's efforts to rally support for his war. Wayne Madsen, who was a communications security analyst with the NSA in the 1980s, believes that the memo is authentic, and believes that this memo was aimed at other nations who are part of the Echelon intelligence network, namely Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom. Additionally, a member or Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) was arrested in connection with the leaking of the memo.

Colin Powell's presentation

On February 5, 2003, United States Secretary of State Colin Powell presented a case for military intervention in Iraq to the UN Security Council. Here follows an overview of Mr. Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council.

Mr. Powell presented an array of evidence from satellite images to (alleged) intercepted military communications. By the United States government's own judgement, the evidence did not amount to a "smoking gun." US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld argues that if the US waits for a smoking gun, it will be too late. One of the alleged intercepted military communication was translated as follows by Mr. Powell:

GEN: Yeah.
COL: About this committee that is coming...
GEN: Yeah, yeah.
COL: ...with Mohamed ElBaradei [Director, International Atomic Energy Agency]
GEN: Yeah, yeah.
COL: Yeah.
GEN: Yeah?
COL: We have this modified vehicle.
GEN: Yeah.
COL: What do we say if one of them sees it?
GEN: You didn't get a modified... You don't have a modified...
COL: By God, I have one.
GEN: Which? From the workshop...?
COL: From the al-Kindi Company
GEN: What?
COL: From al-Kindi.
GEN: Yeah, yeah. I'll come to you in the morning. I have some comments. I'm worried you all have something left.
COL: We evacuated everything. We don't have anything left.
GEN: I will come to you tomorrow.
COL: Okay.
GEN: I have a conference at Headquarters, before I attend the conference I will come to you.

Mr. Powell translated another alleged intercepted military communication as "Remove the expression nerve agents wherever it comes up in the wireless instructions."

Iraqi General Amer Al-Saadi has claimed on CNN that this was a "typical American show" and that these alleged military communications could have been emulated by an unknown third party.

Mr. Powell also displayed satellite images. In one such case, Mr. Powell showed two images, alleging that the first was of a small part of a chemical complex called al-Moussaid from May 2002, and the second was from two months later, in July, at the same site. Mr. Powell claims this is "...a site that Iraq has used for at least three years to transship chemical weapons from production facilities out to the field." In the first image, a small fleet of vehicles is present, one of which Mr. Powell described as "a decontamination vehicle associated with biological or chemical weapons activity."

Of the second image, which also shows the area surrounding the site, Mr. Powell said: "It shows that this previous site, as well as all of the other sites around the site, have been fully bulldozed and graded. The topsoil has been removed. The Iraqis literally removed the crust of the earth from large portions of this site in order to conceal chemical weapons evidence that would be there from years of chemical weapons activity."

In addition to the alleged intercepted communications and satellite images, Mr. Powell cites "human sources who are in a position to know the facts." Mr. Powell also criticized Iraq's weapon declaration as being incomplete for failing to account for weapons of mass destruction known to exist when the inspectors were pulled out in 1998. The controversial subject of aluminium tubes has been brought up; Mr. Powell argued they were meant as centrifuges for nuclear weapons production. However, he also admitted there is no consensus (in fact, the UN Inspectors have discarded the possibility.)

The Iraqi government continues to claim that they have no weapons of mass destruction and are fully cooperating with UN Resolution 1441.

After Powell's speech, polls showed increased support for war against Iraq in the US. See American popular opinion of war on Iraq.

Report of Hans Blix on February 14

See for a detailed report. UN Chief Inspector Hans Blix presented on February 14 a report to the UN Security council. Mr. Blix gave an update of the situation in Iraq, and he stated that the Iraqis were now more proactive in their cooperation. He also rebutted some of the arguments proposed by Mr. Powell. Mr. Blix questioned the interpretations of the satellite images put forward by Powell, and stated that alternate interpretations of the satellite images were in fact credible. He also stated that the Iraqis have in fact never received early warning of the inspectors visiting any sites (an allegation made by Mr. Powell during his presentation.) International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohammed ElBaradei also said that he does not believe the Iraqis have a nuclear weapons program, in disagreement with Mr. Powell.

This report of February 14 and the protests of February 15 appear to have created reluctance in some of the members of the Security Council over the war on Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair seems to now suggest that a second UN Security Council resolution is imperative, a switch from his position prior to February 14. This second resolution is being drafted with the intention that it would find Iraq in "material breach" and the "serious consequences" of resolution 1441 should be implemented.

In early February, Iraq had promised to "do more" to cooperate with inspectors, but by late February, Iraq was sending an entirely different message to the UN. UN officials told the Washington times that they had "not seen any positive moves on the part of Iraq." Another charged, "They are not fulfilling their promises." UN officials also expressed beliefs that the Iraqi government may have misread the position of most council members. Either that, or the country may be attempting to continue a game of brinkmanship by parceling out concessions at the last minute to aggravate US efforts to generate consensus for military action.

Meanwhile, UN weapons inspector Blix expressed skepticism over Iraq's claims to have destroyed its stockpiles of anthrax and VX nerve agent in Time magazine. Blix said he found it "a bit odd" that Iraq, with "one of the best-organized regimes in the Arab world," would claim to have no records of the destruction of these illegal substances. "I don't see that they have acquired any credibility," Blix said. "There has to be solid evidence of everything, and if there is not evidence, or you can't find it, I simply say, 'Sorry, I don't find any evidence,' and I cannot guarantee or recommend any confidence."

Report of Hans Blix on March 7

The transcription of his oral report in front of the Security Council can be found at there is also a Real Video file of the report.

Probably the most remarkable point about this report is the begin of a denigration campaign against Hans Blix. Although he clearly mentioned in front of the security council that they had found and were examinating Remotely Piloted Vehicles, here the quote out of the speech in front of the Security Council:

"Inspectors are also engaged in examining Iraq?s programme for Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs). A number of sites have been inspected with data being collected to assess the range and other capabilities of the various models found. Inspections are continuing in this area."

He was attacked for not having said anything about them, here some examples:

See also