The so called no fly zones and the U.N.

This text was written WELL BEFORE the US/UK full scale attack on Iraq and deals with the illegal US/UK bombing of Iraq in the years between Gulf War I and Gulf War II

It was originally written in Swedish, but has been translated to English by Leif Erlingsson.  It is being used with permission from the author.

Date: Sun, 9 Mar 2003 15:30:21 +0100
From: Anders Ekbom <>
To: Leif Erlingsson <>
Subject: Re: US/UK bombing of Iraq

The US/UK bombing of Iraq between Gulf War I and Gulf War II

It's important to remember that the zones were established by the US, the UK and France after the Gulf War, *not* by the UN.

Briefly, the US/UK argues that there is justification in resolution 688 for the attacks according to article 42 in the 7:th chapter of the UN Charter, while most analysts (and also UN:s lawyers!) feels that the resolution does not fall under this chapter.

UN resolution 688    [ Copy here:  ( Also see ) ]

UN Charter, chapter VII

The British seems lately to have become somewhat less self-assured, and now says that:
" ... the justification is essentially based on the overwhelming humanitarian necessity of protecting people on the ground, combined with the need to monitor the effect of 688; so it is the two taken in combination that provides the legal justification."

Lately [remember, this was written 9 Mar 2003, BEFORE 20 Mar 2003!] the US/UK have justified the attacks with the argument that when Iraq is using it's targeting radar against American and British aircraft, they are in breach of resolution 1441, where it is stated that Iraq may not use force against the forces that are enforcing the resolutions.  This is however somewhat problematic since the no-fly-zones aren't established according to any UN-resolution.

Some other analyzes:
Did The United Nations Authorize "No-Fly" Zones Over Iraq?
"... in 1993, the U.N. legal department announced that it could find no existing Security Council resolutions authorizing the United States, Britain, and France to enforce the no-fly zones."

No-fly zones: The legal position

Also in the U.S. this has attracted attention:
No-Fly zones go on trial in Des Moines, Iowa

And regarding the claim that the zones are established in order to protect resistance groups in Northern and Southern Iraq:
" should be noted when the Kurds in the North and Shiites in the South rose up against the government of Iraq in 1991 they were denied military help from the West and their rebellion was crushed..."
(From the above article)

And when one also knows that Turkish aircraft (with the U.S. fully aware) regularly have attacked kurdish groups in northern Iraq, such claims have a distinctly cynical ring to them.

One CAN legalize these zones, but only by asserting that resolution 688 through resolution 678 is giving the international community the right to use all available means to restore stability and safety to the region (it was resolution 678 that gave the right to the invasion of Iraq in 1991), and by further claiming that the requirements for the cease-fire that are mentioned in resolution 678 haven't been fulfilled since Iraq has resisted the U.N. weapons inspections.  [The latter is however patently false.  In 1998, President Bill Clinton successfully pressured UNSCOM director Richard Butler to withdraw inspectors without authorization from the Secretary General or the Security Council -- before their mission was complete -- in order to engage in a four-day heavy bombing campaign against Iraq.  As predicted at the time, this illegal use of military force -- combined with revelations that the United States had abused the inspections process for espionage purposes -- resulted in the Iraqi government barring the inspectors' return until a reorganized inspections commission known as UNMOVIC commenced inspections last year.  [Steven Zunes, ``An Annotated Critique of President George W. Bush's March 17 Address Preparing the Nation for War,'' (Silver City, NM & Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, March 2003)]].  So by presupposing a whole lot of things that are not explicitly expressed in resolutions, and also by interpreting international law in a rather one-track manner, one can assert that the no-fly zones are legal.

But:  To say that American aircraft according to international law have the right to defend themselves when "attacked" (= locked by Iraqi target radar) by the Iraqi air defense, when the American aircrafts according to all international law is actually violating Iraqi airspace, feels rather strained.

I haven't found any American debate about this (like the British example above), but even though I really have tried, I have been unable to find any signs of any international treaty for the establishment of these zones.

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A version of the present article suitable for email can be downloaded here:  no_fly_zones.txt

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Copyleft © 2003 Leif Erlingsson or author.

Updated 27 October 2003