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Is Iraq Still Sovereign?

Is Iraq Still Sovereign?Its leader has been overthrown and its borders are occupied, but according to Tufts’ Hurst Hannum, Iraq has sovereignty that the U.S. has a duty to protect. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.30.03] As the U.S.-led post-war occupation of Iraq continues, some say that it is time for the U.N. to oversee the country's return to self-government. But without a leader or a constitution, is Iraq still a sovereign state that can be regulated by the U.N.? According to Tufts expert Hurst Hannum, Iraq not only has sovereignty - but the U.S. is bound by international law to maintain it.

"[Sovereignty] represents both international and domestic constitutional independence," Hannum - a professor of international law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts - said in an interview with NPR's Bob Edwards on Morning Edition. "It represents the recognition by the international community that a country is a player on the international scene."

Hannum, whose research specialties include nationalism and self-determination, says that despite the occupation Iraq still remains an independent nation.

"Iraq is still sovereign because it is the state that's sovereign, not any particular government," Hannum told Morning Edition. "So Iraq's sovereignty is still imbued with the people of Iraq, even though its actual authority is being exercised by the occupying powers of the United States, the British and others."

The Tufts expert added that as occupiers, the U.S. military's "obligation is essentially to create the conditions where a stable government can be re-established and then to leave and to return actual operation of the sovereign state of Iraq to the Iraqi people."

According to international law, said the Tufts professor, occupying a country does not give the invader rights to determine the sovereignty of the nation it invaded. Rather, it requires responsibility on the part of the invading nation.

"It imposes obligations on the invading nation to act a certain way," Hannum told Morning Edition. "When Kuwait was invaded by Iraq many years ago, it didn't lose its sovereignty even though for a few months it obviously was in no position to govern itself."

In a recent interview, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States plans to set a six-month deadline for the creation of a new Iraqi constitution, which would pave the way for new elections and new leadership.

As Hannum told Morning Edition, "Occupying powers can't take away Iraqi sovereignty and they're obliged, while they are running the country to do so in a way that is essentially for the benefit of the people whose territory it is occupying, to prepare them to govern themselves in the future."

 

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