Security Council begins first debate on Iraq since outbreak of military action

UN Security Council in session

26 March 2003 – With military action in Iraq moving into its second week, the Security Council today held its first debate on the situation since the start of hostilities as it began hearing the views of non-members in an open meeting requested by the Arab League and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

Leading off the discussion, in which the representatives of some 70 countries were expected to take part, Ambassador Mohammed A. Aldouri of Iraq said that his country - a founding member of the United Nations - was being subjected to aggression that was killing women, children and the elderly. Sanctions, which have lasted for almost 13 years, were also having a terrible effect on the country. He said the Council must take action to make sure that the rules of international law were observed. While the aggressors said that their goal was the disarmament of Iraq, everybody knew that they were not the ones tasked with that mandate, he said. The UN inspections during several months had found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction or proscribed activities within Iraq.

The international community was also well aware that the Security Council had not authorized the use of force by the United States and the United Kingdom, Ambassador Aldouri said. The Council must impose respect for its resolutions, particularly those relating to the unjustified embargo against his country. He was still hopeful that the international community would be able to impose its will on those who had broken international law. A failure to do so would mean the end of the United Nations system.

For his part, Ambassador Rastam Mohd Isa of Malaysia, speaking as the Chair of the NAM's Coordinating Bureau, said NAM strongly believed that Member States should observe and abide by the UN Charter and the principles of international law in dealing with problems among nations. NAM opposed all unilateral military actions or use of force, including those made without proper authorization from the Council. It deplored any unilateral action against the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Member States.

With military activity now escalating in Iraq, he said, NAM was extremely concerned about the humanitarian situation of the civilian population in that country. There were reports that the people in Basra could be facing a serious humanitarian disaster, including shortage of basic needs such as electricity and water, if relief supplies did not reach them in time. He hoped the sufferings of the civilian population would be relieved as soon as possible. While the responsibility for that lay with those countries that had initiated military action against Iraq, the international community must also assist the United Nations in carrying out the important task of providing humanitarian relief.

The Observer for the League of Arab States, Yahya Mahmassani, told the Council that the resolution adopted at the end of the League's Ministerial Council meeting on 23 March had stated that the aggression against Iraq was a violation of the UN Charter and the principles of international law, as well as a threat to international peace and security. The League had called for the unconditional withdrawal of US and British forces from Iraq and held them responsible for all the repercussions of the aggression. It had also called on the Council to adopt a resolution calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of forces. In addition, the League had called for a reaffirmation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq.

At a time when there was hope for the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he was stunned to see the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Mr. Mahmassani said. The threat to the security of Arab nations was the possession by Israel of weapons of mass destruction. The other threat was the continued Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The current international system was facing a grave danger, he said, calling on the Council to shoulder its responsibility as the organ responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security. How could the Council remain silent while an unjust war was being waged? He called on the Council to put an end to the war and call for the immediate withdrawal of the invading forces.

Meanwhile Greece's Ambassador, Adamantios Vassilakis, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said the EU was committed to the territorial integrity, sovereignty, political stability and full and effective disarmament of Iraq. It also respected the rights of the Iraqi people, including all persons belonging to minorities. The EU believed the United Nations must continued to play a central role during and after the current crisis, and that the Council should give the United Nations a strong mandate for that mission.

The international community urgently needed to address the major humanitarian needs that would arise from the conflict, Ambassador Vassilakis said. He supported efforts based on proposals made by the Secretary-General to adapt the Oil-for-Food programme to changing circumstances so that it would continue to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. On the regional front, the EU expressed solidarity with, and stood ready to assist, countries faced with problems and risks as a result of conflict, including possible refugee flows.

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