A SHARP increase in British and American bombing raids on Iraq in the run-up to war “to put pressure on the regime” was illegal under international law, according to leaked Foreign Office legal advice.
The advice was first provided to senior ministers in March 2002. Two months later RAF and USAF jets began “spikes of activity” designed to goad Saddam Hussein into retaliating and giving the allies a pretext for war.
The Foreign Office advice shows military action to pressurise the regime was “not consistent with” UN law, despite American claims that it was.
The decision to provoke the Iraqis emerged in leaked minutes of a meeting between Tony Blair and his most senior advisers — the so-called Downing Street memo published by The Sunday Times shortly before the general election.
Democratic congressmen claimed last week the evidence it contains is grounds for impeaching President George Bush.
The increased attacks on Iraqi installations, which senior US officers admitted were designed to “degrade” Iraqi air defences, began six months before the UN passed resolution 1441, which the allies claim authorised military action. The war finally started in March 2003.
This weekend the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Goodhart, vice-president of the International Commission of Jurists and a world authority on international law, said the intensified raids were illegal if they were meant to pressurise the regime.
Although the legality of the war has been more of an issue in Britain than in America, the revelations indicate Bush may also have acted illegally, since Congress did not authorise military action until October 11 2002.
The air war had already begun six weeks earlier and the spikes of activity had been underway for five months.
Is the president going to be held accountable for this? That is the question.