The assassination of Qassem Soleimani in Iraq has stirred widespread doubt about the legitimacy of the operation. It should be noted that this action seriously violated international law, and will lead to more unrest and conflict in the Middle East.
First of all, the U.S. military assassination of Soleimani deviates from the basic principles of international law as well as American domestic law, as significant military operations must be authorized under both. International law requires that before the U.S. can take military action against another country, it must satisfy one of the following three conditions: An authorization for the use of military force must be granted by the United Nations Security Council; there is consent by the country being targeted for attack; or there must be an imminent threat that requires immediate action.
Before carrying out this recent military operation, the U.S. not only failed to seek the opinion of the U.N. Security Council, but also failed to inform or secure the consent of the Iraqi government. Additionally, Soleimani and others did not constitute an immediate or lethal threat to U.S. national security. Therefore, the actions of the United States clearly run counter to international law.
This action similarly departs from American law regarding foreign military operations. The Constitution provides that the power to declare war belongs to Congress and not to the president. Before the president can initiate foreign military operations, he must inform and seek official approval from Congress. Current domestic criticism of the U.S. government has focused on the president’s lack of respect for Congress and the authority of the Constitution. One direct consequence of disregarding domestic law is that the president asserts unlimited power to initiate war, likely exposing him to the trap of constant conflict.
Second, in the face of condemnation from all sides about how the assassination deviated from the law, the administration could only assert self-defense as the key legal justification for the assassination. However, to claim self-defense, there must be an imminent threat of extreme severity; acts of self-defense must only match the severity of this threat. The U.S. has blamed Soleimani for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. troops over the years, and this type of vendetta against the past clearly indicates that current actions stem from a place of revenge, not self-defense.
Of course, the U.S. State Department and Defense Department have repeatedly emphasized that the assassination was carried out in order to stave off an imminent threat from Iran. In reality, however, Soleimani has openly traveled about the Middle East for many years, always under secret surveillance by relevant U.S. agencies. During this time, he never posed an imminent threat to the United States. This situation is far from meeting the international standard of self-defense, thus the U.S. cannot justify its claims that the assassination was an act of self-defense.
The Iraqi government should also protest this action. According to the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement signed in 2008, the U.S. and Iraq promised to cooperate closely on all matters of defense in order to eliminate any threats to Iraq’s sovereignty, security or territory. At the same time, however, this agreement prohibits the U.S. from attacking other countries from Iraq. Soleimani had special status and heightened influence over Iran and the Middle East in general. The United States’ so-called self-defense clearly violates its commitment to Iraq.
Finally, there is currently consensus among the international community about the importance of combating terrorism. However, the U.S. has classified the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, thereby locking these two countries into a pattern of hostility. Customarily, the U.S. values domestic law over international law, and this has led Washington to the conclusion that any extreme action against Iran is legitimate. The assassination casts aside, and seriously deviates from, historic practice under the United Nations Charter, on which the U.S. bases its claim that its actions were legitimate.
It cannot go unmentioned that this action saddens civilized countries. This so-called preemptive strike and defensive attack are clearly in violation of international regulations and laws that have been America’s tried and true diplomatic tradition since its independence. The U.S. may direct other countries to follow international laws and regulations, but the U.S. itself has chosen to cast those laws aside, which is not good for the current international community.