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Colin Powell holding a model vial of anthrax while giving a presentation to the United Nations Security Council.

M1A1 Abrams pose for a photo in front of the "Hands of Victory" in Ceremony Square, Baghdad, Iraq.

In March 2003 the United States government announced that "diplomacy has failed" and that it would proceed with a "coalition of the willing" to rid Iraq under Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction the US insisted it possessed. The 2003 invasion of Iraq began a few days later.

Prior to this decision, there had been much diplomacy and debate amongst the members of the United Nations Security Council over how to deal with the situation. This article examines the positions of these states as they changed during 2002-2003.

Prior to 2002, the Security Council had passed 16 resolutions on Iraq. In 2002, the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441.

In 2003, the governments of the US, Britain, and Spain proposed another resolution on Iraq, which they called the "eighteenth resolution" and others called the "second resolution." This proposed resolution was subsequently withdrawn when it became clear that several permanent members of the Council would cast no votes on any new resolution, thereby vetoing it. [1] Had that occurred, it would have become even more difficult for those wishing to invade Iraq to argue that the Council had authorized the subsequent invasion. Regardless of the threatened or likely vetoes, it seems that the coalition at no time was assured any more than four affirmative votes in the Council—the US, Britain, Spain, and Bulgaria—well short of the requirement for nine affirmative votes.[2]

On September 16, 2004 Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, speaking on the invasion, said, "I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal."[1]


Following the passage of Resolution 1441, on 18 November 2002, weapons inspectors of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission returned to Iraq for the first time since being withdrawn by the United Nations. Whether Iraq actually had weapons of mass destruction or not was being investigated by Hans Blix, head of the Commission, and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Inspectors remained in the country until they withdrew after being notified of the imminent invasion by the United States, Britain, and two other countries.

In early December 2002, Iraq filed a 12,000-page weapons declaration with the UN. After reviewing the document, UN weapons inspectors, the US, France, United Kingdom and other countries thought that this declaration failed to account for all of Iraq's chemical and biological agents. Many of these countries had supplied the Iraqi regime with the technology to make these weapons in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War. On December 19, United States Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that Iraq was in "material breach" of the Security Council resolution.

Blix has complained that, to this day, the United States and Britain have not presented him with the evidence which they claim to possess regarding Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.[2]

On January 16, 2003, inspectors discovered 11 empty 122 mm chemical warheads. These components had not been previously declared by Iraq. Iraq dismissed the warheads as old weapons that had been packed away and forgotten. After performing tests on the warheads, UN inspectors believe that they were new.[citation needed] While the warheads are evidence of an Iraqi weapons program, they may not amount to a "smoking gun", according to US officials, unless some sort of chemical agent was also detected. It never was. UN inspectors believe there to be large quantities of weapons materials still unaccounted for.[citation needed] UN inspectors also searched the homes of several Iraqi scientists.

On January 27, 2003, UN inspectors reported that Iraq had cooperated on a practical level with monitors, but had not demonstrated a "genuine acceptance" of the need to disarm unilaterally. Blix said that after the empty chemical warheads were found on the 16th, Iraq produced papers documenting the destruction of many other similar warheads, which had not been disclosed before. This still left thousands of warheads unaccounted for. Inspectors also reported the discovery of over 3,000 pages of weapons program documents in the home of an Iraqi citizen,[citation needed] suggesting an attempt to "hide" them from inspectors and apparently contradicting Iraq's earlier claim that it had no further documents to provide. In addition, by the 28th, a total of 16 Iraqi scientists had refused to be interviewed by inspectors. The United States claimed that "sources" had told them that Saddam Hussein had ordered the death of any scientist who speaks with inspectors in private. No scientist has confirmed this, and Iraq has insisted that they were not putting pressure on the scientists.

Colin Powell's presentation

Computer-generated image of an alleged mobile production facility for biological weapons presented by Powell at the UN Security Council. Absence of more substantial proofs undermined the credibility of Powell's presentation. Russian experts have always questioned the likelihood of such mobile facilities, which are extremely dangerous and difficult to manage

On February 6, 2003, Powell appeared before the UN to "prove" the urgency to engage a war with Iraq. Although the presentation failed to change the fundamental position of the Security Council, including France, Russia, China, and Germany, Powell succeeded in hardening the overall tone of the United Nations towards Iraq. Powell also claimed that Iraq harbored a terrorist network headed by al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (in a small region controlled by Ansar al-Islam), despite much evidence to the contrary[citation needed]. Powell also showed photos of what he said was a poison and explosives training camp in northeast Iraq, operated by the group. When this camp was visited by a British journalist two days later, all that was found was a few dilapidated buildings and no evidence or signs of any terrorist activity, chemical or explosives[citation needed]. Powell alleged that these training camps had been operating with help from Iraqi agents, despite them being in the northern Iraqi Kurdistan "no-fly zone", and thus outside of de facto Iraqi control. Powell also claimed that Iraqis visited Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and provided training to al-Qaeda members, although thousands of Arabs from many countries did the same. US intelligence agencies have found no evidence of any substantive collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. While Colin Powell's statement to the UN may have been accepted as "proof" by many in the US, this was not the case in Europe, where there was widespread scepticism of any links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The British government's intelligence services did not believe there was any link at all, given the mutual hatred between Islamists and the secular regime in Baghdad.

Report of Hans Blix on February 14

UN Chief Inspector Hans Blix, on 14 February 2003, presented a report to the Security Council. 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 Powell. Blix questioned the interpretations of the satellite images put forward by Powell, and stated that alternate interpretations of the satellite images were credible. He also stated that the Iraqis have in fact never received early warning of the inspectors visiting any sites (an allegation made by Powell during his presentation). International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohammed ElBaradei also said that he did not believe the Iraqis have a nuclear weapons program, unlike what Powell had claimed.

This report of February 14 and the protests of February 16 appear to have created reluctance in some of the members of the Security Council over the proposed war on Iraq. A second resolution was being drafted with the intention that it would find Iraq in "material breach" and the "serious consequences" of Resolution 1441 should be implemented.

Blix expressed skepticism over Iraq's claims to have destroyed its stockpiles of anthrax and VX nerve agent in Time magazine[citation needed]. 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[citation needed]. "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."[citation needed]

Report of Blix on March 7

On 12 March 2004, Blix made his twelfth quarterly report on the status of UNMOVIC's efforts to verify Iraq's disarmament. A transcript of his presentation is available at CNN.[3]


As George W. Bush gave Saddam Hussein an ultimatum to leave power, the UN pulled out all the inspectors from Iraq. Days later the invasion began.

Positions of Security Council members

  • United States - The US maintained that Iraq was not cooperating with UN inspectors and had not met its obligations to 17 UN resolutions. The US felt that Resolution 1441 called for the immediate, total unilateral disarmament of Iraq and continued to show frustration at the fact that months after the resolution was passed Iraq was still not, in its view, disarming. Language in Resolution 1441 recalled that the use of "all means necessary" was still authorized and in effect from Resolution 678, and therefore maintained that if Iraq failed to comply with the "one final chance to comply" provision of Resolution 1441, then military action would be the result.
  • United Kingdom - Within the Security Council, the UK was the primary supporter of the US plan to invade Iraq. Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly and vigorously supported US policy on Iraq, and portrayed himself as exerting a moderating influence on Bush. British public opinion polls in late January showed that the public support for the war was deteriorating. It had fallen from 50 percent to 30 percent by March.
  • France - On 20 January 2003, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said, "We think that military intervention would be the worst possible solution," although France believed that Iraq may have had 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 also suggested that it would veto any resolution allowing military intervention offered by the US or Britain. The most important French speech during the crisis was made by De Villepin at the Security Council on the 14 February 2003, after Hans Blix presented his detailed report (see below). De Villepin detailed the three major risks of a "premature recourse to the military option", especially the "incalculable consequences for the stability of this scarred and fragile region". He said that "the option of war might seem a priori to be the swiftest, but let us not forget that having won the war, one has to build peace". He emphasized that "real progress is beginning to be apparent" through the inspections, and that, "given the present state of our research and intelligence, in liaison with our allies", the alleged links between al-Qaeda and the regime in Baghdad explained by Colin Powell were not established. He concluded by referring to the dramatic experience of "old Europe" during World War II. This "impassioned" speech "against war on Iraq, or immediate war on Iraq", won "an unprecedented applause", reported the BBC's Sir David Frost (BBC News). The complete text is available at the Embassy of France in the United States. Britain and the US sharply criticized France for this position in March 2003.[citation needed]
  • Russia - 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 begun 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. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov also garnered unusual applause inside the chamber with his speech against the war.[citation needed]
  • China - The People's Republic of China supported continued weapons inspections. On January 23, the Washington Post reported that the Chinese position was "extremely close" to that of France.[citation needed]
  • Germany - On January 22, German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, at a meeting with French president Jacques Chirac, said that he and Chirac would do all they could to avert war. At the time, Germany was presiding over the Security Council.
  • Angola - Angola supported continued inspections, but had not taken a stand on disarmament by military action.
  • Bulgaria - Bulgaria suggested that it would support the use of military force to disarm Iraq, even without UN backing.
  • Cameroon - Cameroon encouraged the continued inspections, but had not taken a firm stand on whether the country would support a US led strike to invade Iraq.
  • Chile - Chile indicated that it would like inspections to continue, but had not taken a position on the use of military force to disarm Iraq.
  • Guinea - Guinea supported further inspections, but had not taken a position on the use of military force to disarm Iraq.
  • Mexico - Mexico supported further inspections, and hinted that it would support a US-led military campaign if it were backed by the UN. The country also hinted that it might consider supporting a military campaign without UN backing as well. President Vicente Fox heavily criticized the war when it started and Mexican diplomats described their conversations with US officials as hostile in tone and that Washington was demonstrating little concern for the constraints of the Mexican government whose people were overwhelmingly opposed to the war with Iraq. (USA Today)
  • Pakistan - Pakistan supported continued inspections.
  • Syria - Syria felt that Iraq was cooperating and meeting its obligations under UN resolutions. Syria would have liked to see the crippling UN sanctions on Iraq lifted.
  • Spain - Spain supported the US's position on Iraq and supported the use of force to disarm Iraq, even without UN approval.


According to Britain, a majority of the UN 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. However, for a resolution to pass, a supermajority of 9 out of 15 votes are needed. Only four countries announced they would support a resolution backing the war.[4]

In the mid-1990s, France, Russia and other members of the UN Security Council asked for sanctions on Iraq to be lifted. The sanctions were criticized for making ordinary people suffer and being the cause of a humanitarian catastrophe leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths.[5]

Many people also felt that many of the governments that had aligned themselves with the US, despite strong opposition among their populations, did so because of their own economic ties to the United States. The United States used strong pressure and threats against other nations to attempt to coerce nations on the Security Council to support them. For example, Mexican diplomats complained that talks with US officials had been "hostile in tone", and had shown little concern for the Mexican government's need to accommodate the overwhelmingly anti-war 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."

The Institute for Policy Studies published a report[6] analyzing what it called 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 concluded that it was 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 included a variety of incentives including:

  • Promises of aid and loan guarantees to nations who supported the US
  • Promises of military assistance to nations who supported the US
  • Threats to veto NATO membership applications for countries who don't do what the US asked
  • Leveraging the size of the US export market and US influence over financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
  • Deciding which countries receive trade benefits under such laws as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which, as one of its conditions for eligibility for such benefits, requires that a country does "not engage in activities that undermine United States national security interests".
  • Deciding what countries it should buy petroleum from in stocking its strategic reserves. The US has exerted such pressure on several oil-exporting nations, such as Mexico.

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'." [7]

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 their illegal war. Wayne Madsen, who was a communications security analyst with the NSA in the 1980s, believes the memo is authentic and believes the memo was aimed at other nations who are part of the ECHELON intelligence network, namely Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK. Additionally, a member or Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Katharine Gun was charged under the Official Secrets Act 1989 in connection with the leaking of the memo. She stated her intention to plead not guilty on the grounds that her actions were justified to prevent an illegal war. The case against her was dropped after the prosecution declined to present any evidence at her trial.[8]

Clare Short, a British cabinet minister who resigned in May 2003 over the war, stated in media interviews that British intelligence regularly spied on UN officials. She stated that she had read transcripts of Kofi Annan's conversations.

Powell retraction

In 2004 and 2005 Colin Powell acknowledged that much of his 2003 UN presentation was inaccurate:

I looked at the four [sources] that [the CIA] gave me for [the mobile bio-labs], and they stood behind them, ... Now it appears not to be the case that it was that solid. At the time I was preparing the presentation, it was presented to me as being solid.[9] April 3, 2004

I feel terrible ... [giving the speech] ... It's a blot. I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now.[10] Sep 8, 2005

See also


External links

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