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As attack on Iraq begins, question remains: Is it legal?

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Washington and London, however, argue that Resolution 1441 harked back in its preamble to Resolution 678, passed in 1990, authorizing the use of force to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait "and to restore international peace and security in the area." That authority, British Attorney General Lord Goldsmith told Parliament this week, has been revived by Iraq's failure to observe the terms of the Gulf War ceasefire, which included a pledge to hand over all chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons within 90 days.

That reasoning is questionable, argued opposition Liberal Democratic legal affairs spokesman Lord Goodhart on BBC radio. Resolution 687, which ended the last Gulf War, "specifically authorized the use of sanctions (but) I certainly don't believe that authorizes armed intervention without a second resolution," he said.

At a more fundamental level, however, critics charge that the war breaches Article 51 of the UN Charter, which asserts "the inherent right of individual or collective self defense if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations." Otherwise the use of force requires UN Security Council approval.

Iraq has not attacked the US, and "I don't think America is coming under armed attack from Iraq," Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said Wednesday. "I don't think anyone could say that the armed action they (the Americans) are going to take is within the frame of the UN Charter."

President Bush seemed to stretch the interpretation of Article 51 in his speech to the nation Monday, saying that the US "has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security. "Terrorists and terror states do not reveal these threats with fair notice, in formal declarations; and responding to such enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense, it is suicide," the president added.

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