The web site of Global Policy Forum, whose mission is "to monitor policy making at the United Nations, promote accountability of global decisions, educate and mobilize for global citizen participation, and advocate on vital issues of international peace and justice," maintains a page devoted to the international law aspects of the Iraq war and occupation.[1]  --  The matter of the war's legality or illegality, unfortunately, is not as cut and dried as one might wish, due to the uncertain status of international law itself.  --  One scholar who has written usefully on these questions is Philip Bobbitt, the nephew of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and an intellectual historian and scholar of constitutional law of some note.  --  In his 900-page 2002 tome The Shield of Achilles, Bobbitt wrote: "Out of this intellectual and moral abyss [of the irrelevance of international law to the global, epochal conflict between bourgeois parliamentarism, Communism, and fascism that lasted from 1914 to 1991], a half a dozen schools of thought emerged, each trying to establish a justifiable yet realistic basis for international law. . . . The fundamental approaches that divided thinkers about international law befor the twentieth century can be roughly characterized as formalism and naturalism.  Formalism focuses on the extent to which legal truths are the result of following arbitrary rules. . . . By contrast, the naturalist in international law . . . holds that the relationship between the content of legal rules and the world accounts for their truth or falsity.  Legal rules must be in accord with the nature of man, which is part of the nature of the universe. . . . In the case of both naturalism and formalism, the truth of a legal rule is tied to something in the world, but in one case (naturalism) that something has to do with the content of the legal rule, and in the other (formalism) that something has to do with the status of the rule as law, irrespective of its content.  --  In the early twentieth century, principally in the United States, the foundations of these two traditions were shaken by a new movement, Legal Realism.  One of its founders, Karl Llewellyn, had written in 1930, 'What these officials [judges, sheriffs, clerks, lawyers, presidents] do about disputes is, to my mind, law itself.' . . . [I]nternational law became vulnerable to the disenchantment that arose from the Realist critique of law generally. . . . Formalism and Naturalism in international law played out in various attempts to meet the challenge of Legal Realism.  Formalism became the source of three schools of thought:  Legal Process, Nominalism, and Consensualism.  Naturalism served as the source of the New Haven School, Neo-Realism, and what might be called Perspectivism.  These families of thought about the basis for international law have, as families, do, overlapping memberships, black sheep, father figures, deeply held prejudices, exaggerated genealogies, and so on.  The distinctions among them have to do with their answers to the two shattering twentieth century questions about international law:  if the body of international legal rules cannot uniquely determine the legality of a particular act by the parties it is supposed to govern, how can it be law?  And if international law is law, why doesn't it have any effect?" (Philip Bobbitt, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002], pp. 641-42; emphases in the original).  --  Bobbitt reviews these various schools. -- He notes that "Outside the United States, one school of thought overwhelmingly dominates international law," which Bobbitt calls "consensualism because it holds that the content of international law depends wholly (or almost entirely) on the consent of states. . . . because states are sovereign, they can only be bound by that law to which they consent" (ibid., p. 644; emphasis in the original).  --  By contrast, "the New Haven School . . . exalts the fundamental values of world order as the indispensable guide to determining and applying international law" (ibid., 649); Bobbit characterizes Richard Falk as a second-generation spokesman for this school.  --  After reviewing the various schools, Bobbitt argues that "These six schools of international law track the six modalities of U.S. constitutional law track the six modalities of U.S. constitutional law" (ibid., p. 660).  --  He characterizes these as historical, textual, structural, doctrinal, ethical, and prudential (ibid., 660-61).  --  Unfortunately, Bobbitt's survey does not yield clear, simple answers about the nature of international law; in fact, in his view, it is impossible for such answers to exist in our time, because of its transitional nature:  "Governments everywhere are floundering with regard to their security policies. . . . We are in a time of crisis . . ." (ibid. p. 663)....

[Web site]


This section examines the legality of the 2003 U.S.-U.K. war on Iraq.  Shortly before the outbreak of hostilities, U.N. Secretary General stated that the use of force without Council endorsement would "not be in conformity with the Charter" and many legal experts now describe the U.S.-U.K. attack as an act of aggression, violating international law.  Experts also point to illegalities in the U.S. conduct of the war and violations of the Geneva Conventions by the U.S.-U.K. of their responsibilities as an occupying power.  The section also looks at wartime violations on the Iraqi side.

[See the above link for more on the following topics]

Occupation and Rule

Resistance to the Occupation

U.N. Role

Toward Iraq's Government


Corporate Contracts


Development Fund for Iraq

Consequences of the War/Occupation

Justifications for War/Occupation

Iraq Tribunal


Statements against the War/Occupation


General Articles

Historical Background


Links and Resources