Monday, February 05, 2007

Humanitarian Risk of "Operation Imposing Law"

The devastating human toll that has taken place in Iraq can be seen in dramatic headlines and photographs throughout the media today. The bombing that killed 135 people in a crowded Baghdad market was only one of the horrifying events that took place this past weekend in Iraq. The human suffering that is created by war is inevitable, but the question of proportionality and the protection of innocent civilians must be a part of the discourse taking place in light of President Maliki's new military strategy, dubbed "Operation Imposing Law." A recent article in The Washington Times has more details on this plan to combat militants throughout the country, but the basic idea is that Maliki will take the fighting to the insurgent groups.

Maliki explains, "We have no choice but to use force and any place we receive fire will not be safe, even if it is a school, a mosque, a political party office or home." This comment, even though directed at terrorist cells and insurgent groups, will also indirectly apply to civilians if carried out. In the build-up to the Iraq War, the concept of "Just War" was bandied about by both pro and anti-war groups in defense of their respective positions, so the concept is certainly open to much interpretation, but in pursuing "Operation Imposing Law," Maliki is completely disregarding on of its core principles: it is never "just" to target civilians (noncombatants), or places that are traditionally seen as civilian areas, like schools for example.

Customarily, schools, religious sites, and residences are off limits to fighting. Granted Iraq's sectarian violence is anything but traditional, but should the Iraqi and Coalition forces endorse this unethical means of fighting? Shouldn't they be the example for upholding the principles of engagement outlined in the Just War tradition? This must be done to uphold the human rights of Iraqi noncombatants. In doing so, the Maliki government will also gain some accountability internationally, setting itself apart from insurgent groups who do not regard these traditionally accepted humanitarian norms.

Maliki did later make a statement ensuring the protection of innocent civilian's human rights, while at the same time going after those individuals responsible for the escalating violence. The Washington Times article goes on to state that Washington was happy with Maliki's address and his committment to a sustainable peace. Even so, conflict based on sectarian lines has ensued. It is playing out between political parties and in the streets of Baghdad. The voices that are drowned out by the continued fighting are Iraq's innocent civilians, who are suffering the consequences of war.

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