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Is The Iraq War Unjust?
Written by Michael James Fares   
Wednesday, 29 June 2005 10:57

In her pre-Iraq War book Just War Against Terror, Jean Bethke Elshtain explores the concept of a "just war" and what it means for America to fight a just war against terrorism. Whilst advocating the Afghan War, Elshtain lays down characteristics of a just war one by one. The following are among the most important of these characteristics: First, a just war must be a response to a direct attack or an imminent threat. Second, a just war is a war waged only as a last resort. It is a war begun only once every kind of diplomatic action has clearly failed. Third, a war that is fought for any type of "aggrandizement" is not a just war. Fourth, the means implemented in war must correspond to the end desired; that is, the country waging the war should strive for measured justice as opposed to brutal and unbounded revenge. America's war in Iraq has been lacking in all of the above stated criteria of a just war.

By just war logic, the mere invasion of Iraq by America was unjust. The 2003 invasion was not a response to a direct attack, nor was it a response to an imminent threat. As one of its major justifications for war in Iraq, America claimed that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the September 11th attacks. This claim rested solely on the reporting by a Czech informant to Czech intelligence that Mohammed Atta supposedly met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in April of 2001. Czech intelligence concluded that the informant was not a credible source. Furthermore, an alliance between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden is highly unlikely due to the fact that Osama Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, despises Hussein's secularism. Since there is now almost no doubt that Hussein was not involved in the September 11th attacks, America's invasion of Iraq can in no way be seen as a direct response to these attacks. In making a case for War, the Bush administration also claimed that Saddam Hussein posed a grave threat to America becuase he was in possession of biological and chemical weapons as well as in the process of obtaining nuclear weapons. Before the Iraq War even began, evidence was found to disprove this claim. Starting four months before the American invasion, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors explored the possibility that Iraq could be trying to build nuclear weapons. The inspectors concluded that no evidence of a present nuclear program in Iraq existed. The lead U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix ran an inspection of 500 sites in Iraq between November 2002 and March 2003. In early March, 2003, Blix reported that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. This information was further corroborated in 2004 when Charles Duelfer, a CIA official, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iraq had not had a program for nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons since sanctions were instituted against such programs following the Gulf War. Thus, since it was shown before the invasion that Iraq did not have the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration constantly claimed posed an imminent threat to America; the invasion of Iraq cannot be seen as the response to an imminent threat.

Not only was the invasion of Iraq neither the retaliation to an attack nor the response to an imminent threat, but it was also not a last resort action by any means. Many sources now say that diplomatic efforts to deal with Saddam Hussein before the war began were working effectively. After the United Nations passed resolution 1441 in November 2002, Iraq was seen to cooperate with weapons inspectors.10  America seemed to refuse to acknowledge the progress of such diplomatic efforts that occurred before the war. A commission headed by former Virginia senator Charles S. Robb concluded that the findings of pre-war weapons inspectors were repeatedly denied and refuted by the Bush administration in the leading up to the invasion.11  Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld routinely claimed in public statements that the U.N. inspections could not work and that diplomacy through the U.N. was likely to fail. Thus, America had no interest in exhausting every diplomatic means before going to war. War was in the interest of the administration from the beginning.12 

Vice President Dick Cheney is the former CEO of Halliburton, a firm which has had a huge presence in post-Saddam Iraq. In seeing this connection, one cannot help wondering if the Iraq War was at least partially for aggrandizement. Halliburton and Dick Cheney had interest in Iraqi oil and gaining control over its production a long time before the war in Iraq began. In January 2002, Halliburton executives as well as other big oil company executives met with Dick Cheney's staff to talk about Iraq's post war oil production and how to make it successful.13  This led to Halliburton's being given a no-bid contract before the war. The contract started out by guaranteeing Halliburton work putting out post-war oil fires. The contract, however, ultimately enabled Halliburton to control essentially half of Iraq's production of oil.14  Companies other than Halliburton who tried to go to the pentagon to bid on post-war oil fire work were discouraged and blown off. In the fall of 2002, prospective contractor Bob Grace, CEO of GSM, received a letter from pentagon official Alan Estevez saying that it was "too early to speculate what might happen in the event that war breaks out in the region".15  A month before the pentagon wrote Grace the letter, however, it had already given the "Iraq Oil Field Plan" task order to Halliburton.16  Was Dick Cheney using his influence at the Pentagon to get Halliburton exclusive rights to oil work in post-war Iraq? Sometime after the war began, Halliburton emerged in the spotlight for various poor practices. An audit by the pentagon showed that the company charged "millions of dollars for food it never served to the troops."17  Another audit discovered that Halliburton had charged $61m extra for the transporting of gasoline from Kuwait to Iraq after the American invasion.18  Dick Cheney denies any longer having a financial interest in Halliburton. However, he received $178,437 from the company in 2003. The Congressional Research Service has said that such payments to Cheney are part of his "ongoing financial interest."19  All of this evidence suggests that it is not at all unlikely that Dick Cheney, among other reasons for promoting the war in Iraq, advocated the war because of its potential to benefit him financially.

The horrors committed by American troops in dealing with Iraqi detainees at Abu Gharib Prison clearly do not constitute a just and proportionate response to anything the detainees could have done or were suspected to have done. The prison abuse, on he other hand, was brutality that saw no limits. According to a 2004 report written by Major General Antonio Taguba, between October and December of 2003 Abu Gharib Prison saw several occurrences of "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" of prisoners by U.S. troops.20  The report also claimed that military intelligence officers encouraged the prison guards to create an environment for the prisoners that would make them easy to interrogate.21  Actions associated with preparing prisoners to be interrogated included: "The pouring of phosphoric liquid on detainees, the beating of detainees with broom handles and a chair, the threatening of male detainees with rape… and the sodomizing of a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broomstick."22  Tugba's report also disclosed that detainees were forced to adopt sexual positions. Male prisoners were forced to masturbate in front of cameras. One detainee was stood up on a box and had wires attached to the various parts of his body to simulate electrocution.23  Dogs were used to scare prisoners, one of whom ended up badly bitten. Another prisoner, who was kept naked, had a dog chain placed around his neck.24  One prisoner was ill-treated by CIA and intelligence officers to such a large degree that he died.25  The list of Abu Gharib abuses goes on.

The occurrences in the Iraq War discussed in this essay are just some of those which conflict with just war theory. In all fairness, however, there have recently been several positive events in Iraq. The country just held free elections to elect its first new President. Saddam Hussein, an extremely oppressive dictator, is no longer in power. What was clearly an unjust war at its inception is now becoming more ambiguous. Yes, America should not have gone into Iraq in the first place, but it did. This fact leaves us with the difficult question of weather or not an unjust invasion can later become justified by its results. For the invasion of Iraq, only the future holds the answer to this question.

1 Jean Bethke Elshtain, Just War Against Terror (New York: Basic Books, 2003), 53.
2 Chaim Kaufmann, "Threat Inflation and the Failure of Marketplace Ideals," International Security (2004), Project Muse [Online Database]; accessed May 2005.
3-6, 8, 10 Kaufmann, p5-48
7 Dafna Linzer, "Panel: Work of U.N. Arms Inspectors Was Ignored by U.S. Before Iraq War," The Washington Post (3 April 2005), Lexis-Nexis Scholastic Universe [Online Database]; accessed May 2005.
9 Paul Kerr, "Duelfer Disproves U.S. WMD Claims," Arms Control Today (November 2004), ProQuest [Online Database]; accessed May 2005.
11 Linzer.
12 James P. Rubin, "Stumbling Into War," Foreign Affairs, (September/October 2003), ProQuest [Online Database]; accessed May 2005.
13 Charlie Cray, "The Halliburton Fix," Multinational Monitor (May/June 2004), ProQuest [Online Database]; accessed May 2005.
14-16, 19 Cray, p2.
17 Cray, p4.
18 Chris Floyd, "Halliburton in Iraq," The Ecologist (March 2004), ProQuest [Online Database]; accessed May 2005.
20 Conor O'Cleary, "US army report says prisoners widely abused," The Irish Times (3 May 2005), Lexis-Nexis Scholastic Universe [Online Database]; accessed May 2005.
21-22, 25 O'Cleary, p1.
23 Sean D. Murphy, "U.S. Abuse of Iraqi Detainees at Abu Ghraib Prison," American Journal of International Law (July 2004), ProQuest [Online Database]; accessed May 2005.
24 Murphy, p3.
25 O'Cleary, p2.

© 2005 - Michael James Fares /

Last Updated on Friday, 13 March 2009 14:49

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