Islamic State: Air strikes on Isis in Syria could be illegal

 

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The Independent Online

David Cameron has been warned that UK air strikes against Isis in Syria could be illegal under international law.

Officials in the House of Commons Library have cast doubt on the Prime Minister’s view that Isis targets could be bombed in Syria as well as Iraq on the grounds that the Assad regime in Syria is “illegitimate.”

In a briefing paper for MPs, officials said: “Action in Syria will be difficult to justify legally without a request for assistance from the Assad government, and it is unlikely that the West could be seen to be responding to such a request.

“The British Government has said that any action in Syria will comply with international law, and the most likely way to achieve this would be to claim that military action is for humanitarian purposes, using the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. This remains controversial, however, without a United Nations Security Council resolution to authorise it.”

Barack Obama is expected to chair a security council session to discuss Isis during the UN general assembly in New York next week. Although the US President and Mr Cameron will use the meeting to lobby other UN members to join an international coalition against Isis, a vote on military action is unlikely to be taken. Russia, an ally of Syria, could veto air strikes in Syria.

Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, who said last week that the UK would not join the US in carrying out air strikes in Syria, insisted today that no option had been ruled out. But he conceded that bombing in Syria would be “an order of magnitude more difficult than air strikes in Iraq for all sorts of reasons – military, legal and technical.” Downing Street said the Prime Minister’s view had not changed since his previous comments. It denied that a decision on military action had been delayed until after Thursday’s referendum in Scotland to avoid alienating voters who opposed the 2003 Iraq war.

Pressure is mounting from Conservative MPs for the Government to commit to air strikes, but an announcement is unlikely until after the UN session. Mr Cameron could recall Parliament at the end of next week to seek its endorsement of air strikes. Whips in the three main parties believe a majority of MPs would support bombing in Iraq but are unsure about securing backing for action in Syria.

Syria warned that action without the cooperation of its government would be a “big mistake” and a “big crime”. Faisal Mekdad, the deputy foreign minister, said: "Those who would like to fight terrorism cannot fight terrorism in Syria or in Iraq without coordinated actions with both governments and without a broader international coalition.”

The Commons Library report warns: “Given that the full-scale invasion and occupation for several years from 2003 onwards struggled to pacify Iraq, air strikes alone are not likely to succeed. Isis controls large amounts of territory, population and natural resources and is consequently far better funded than the Sunni resistance which so troubled US forces after the 2003 invasion.

“What is more, air strikes are likely to result in civilian casualties as Isis forces hide among the civilian population. This is conceivably their aim – to provoke the West into military action which hurts Muslim civilians, thus supporting their narrative of the West’s ‘war on Islam’.”

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