The US and Kuwait undermine
the UN by entering the
demilitarised zone on the
Kuwait-Iraq border


PressInfo # 175

 March 12, 2003


Jan Oberg, TFF Director
Christian Hårleman, TFF Boardmember


Perhaps it is not the most well-known peace mission of the UN, but you will be sure to hear more about it soon as it is situated on the border between Iraq and Kuwait. Its name is UNIKOM (UN Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission), It was established by Security Council Resolution 687 in 1991. During TFF's fact-finding mission to Iraq in January this year, we visited the UN mission there.

Reports from the last few days tell that armed US Marines and vehicles have entered this demilitarised zone, DMZ, between Iraq and Kuwait. On the Kuwaiti side, they have cut down fences and set up 7 gates, presumably in preparation of an invasion and occupation of Iraq.

We, the authors, are not experts in international law and shall not judge whether this is a breach of the Security Council Resolution and/or other parts of international law, or whether there is some fine print somewhere that makes this legitimate under certain circumstances. However, we doubt it. It is hard to understand that a UN demilitarised zone can be entered by armed personnel in preparation for an attack on a UN member state and that it would be legal.

But, more importantly, this is undoubtedly a serious political and normative blow to the authority and integrity of the United Nations as such. It undermines both the Security Council and the vitally important, highly competent UNIKOM mission on the ground. It further destabilises the region and signals to the government of Iraq that it will be attacked no matter what it does to avoid war.

It is striking that this unilateral action has not caused a stir and that there has been virtually no international debate about it.


Questions that should be raised

We believe these developments raise a series of important questions pertaining to international peace.

1. Did the United States seek permission from the United Nations before entering into the zone? If so, on what grounds was the US given permission to enter the zone with weapons?

2. When the UN has informed the Security Council about this breach, what will it be able to do when one of its own permanent members ignores a decision made by that very same Council?

3. Can it be morally acceptable and in accordance with the letter and spirit of international law as well as the UN Charter that one member of the UN unilaterally militarises a UN demilitarised zone? If done in preparation for an attack on another member state, can this be legitimate under any circumstances?

4. Is Iraq - a UN member that has, naturally, never signed an SC decision - legally or politically obliged to comply with SC decisions if a Permanent SC Member that has signed SC decisions does not respect them?

5. It would seem that a member state, by entering a UN demilitarised zone with weapons and with the purpose of invading another member constitutes a threat to international peace and security. If so, the Secretary-General can choose to "bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security." (Article 99 of the UN Charter). What is the Secretary-General's opinion in this case when a member state makes a force-based incursion into a zone set up by the organisation he leads?

6. What obligations does UN member Kuwait have as party to the UNIKOM mission? By letting US troops enter its side of the demilitarised zone, does it constitute a breach of the SC decision and the UNIKOM mandate? If so, should Kuwait continue to receive 25% of all Iraq's oil revenue in war reparations if it, as it seems, contributed to preparing an international aggression on Iraq?

7. What if Baghdad perceives the incursion into the zone as a further increase of the threat against it and, with reference to the inherent right to self-defence (UN Charter Article 51), finds it necessary to enter the UN demilitarised zone from its side?

Why has nobody raised these questions? Has the arrogance of the Bush regime and its systematic defiance of international consultations, norms and laws and its might-make-right policies been so pervasive that they no longer provoke debate?

The U.S. repeatedly points out that Iraq has repeatedly violated Security Council decisions. It argues that the credibility of the Council is at stake when its decisions are not backed up with determination, with force if necessary. In this case it looks as if the United States doesn't care a damn about its own signature under an SC decision, doesn't it?



The following are excerpts from UNIKOM's website:

The Council gave UNIKOM a mandate to monitor the DMZ and the Khawr 'Abd Allah waterway between Iraq and Kuwait, to deter violations of the boundary, and to observe any hostile action mounted from the territory of one state against the other.

The military observers of UNIKOM are unarmed. Responsibility for the maintenance of law and order in the DMZ rests with the Governments of Iraq and Kuwait, which maintain police posts in their respective parts of the zone. Police are only allowed side arms.

In 1993, the Security Council, by its resolution 806 (1993), expanded the tasks of UNIKOM to include the capacity to take physical action to prevent or redress: (a) small-scale violations of the DMZ; (b) violations of the boundary between Iraq and Kuwait, for example by civilians or police; and (c) problems that might arise from the presence of Iraqi installations and Iraqi citizens and their assets in the DMZ on the Kuwaiti side of the newly demarcated boundary. The Council increased the authorised strength of the mission to 3,645 (three mechanised infantry battalions including support elements) and requested the Secretary-General to execute a phased deployment of the additional elements.

By acting under Chapter VII, the Council demonstrated that the international community would act decisively should Iraq attempt to attack Kuwait again. To further strengthen this, all five permanent members of the Security Council, for the first time in a peacekeeping operation, agreed to provide military observers.

As of 31 December 2002, there were 1,105 total uniformed personnel, comprised of 193 military observers and 912 troops, supported by 63 international civilian personnel and 164 local civilian staff. They came from 32 countries, among them the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden.


This is a short report from the Washington Post, March 7, 2003, p A16.

Breach by U.S. Troops Reported
Kuwait-Iraq Zone Crossed, U.N. Says

UNITED NATIONS, March 6 -- The United Nations has informed the Security Council that armed U.S. Marines have repeatedly breached a U.N.-monitored demilitarized zone along the Kuwait-Iraq border, potentially violating a 1991 resolution ending the Persian Gulf War.

U.N. peacekeepers monitoring the border "reported numerous violations of the demilitarized zone" since Tuesday by individuals in civilian dress and driving four-by-four vehicles, said chief U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard. He said some of the individuals "were armed and identified themselves as U.S. Marines."

The U.N. force also reported seeing three spots that had been cut along an electric fence erected near the Iraqi border by Kuwait. The United Nations raised the matter with the Kuwaiti government and asked to be informed of similar activities.

A Kuwaiti official said the United Nations has no right to report any activities to the council beyond the fact of an armed incursion of the demilitarized zone. "Whether or not we cut or move a fence is nobody's business," the official said.

It remained unclear whether the alleged activities were part of preparations for a U.S. incursion into Iraq. But the council notification raised questions about whether a U.S.-led invasion through the demilitarized zone would violate a Security Council resolution.

An official at the U.S. mission to the United Nations declined to comment.

-- Colum Lynch


Here is a short report from The Miami Herald that gives a good impression of the military situation on the Iraqi side:



© TFF 2003



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