The United States gave its official reasons for invading Iraq to the U.N. Security Council late Thursday, saying Baghdad had broken a cease-fire resolution adopted after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Britain and Australia, two other nations in the U.S.-led coalition, wrote similar, shorter, letters to the 15-member council. None of the letters mentioned "regime change," an aim of the invasion but never authorized in any council resolution.
U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte described the military operations as "substantial" to secure compliance of Iraq's disarmament obligations under a series of council resolutions. Those measures include Resolution 1441, adopted Nov. 8, which gave Iraqi President Saddam Hussein one last chance to disarm.
"The government of Iraq decided not to avail itself of its final opportunity under Resolution 1441 and has clearly committed additional violations," Negroponte said.
He noted that Resolution 687, which was adopted in April 1991, imposed disarmament obligations on Iraq that were conditions of the cease-fire signed at the end of the Gulf War, during which another U.S.-led coalition drove Baghdad's troops from Kuwait.
"It has long been recognized and understood that a material breach of these obligations removes the basis of the cease-fire and revives the authority to use force under Resolution 678," Negroponte wrote. "In view of Iraq's material breaches, the basis for the cease-fire has been removed, and use of force is authorized."
The legal justification for the invasion is in dispute among many nations as well as some international lawyers, who argue that the Security Council had to rule on a "material breach" or give specific authorization before any invasion could take place.
He said Iraq had repeatedly refused to respond to diplomatic overtures, economic sanctions and other peaceful means designed to bring about compliance with its obligations to disarm and allow inspections of its weapons programs.
Consequently, military action was an "appropriate response" and necessary "to defend the United States and the international community from the threat posed by Iraq and to restore international peace and security in the area," Negroponte wrote.
"In carrying out these operations, our forces will take all reasonable precautions to avoid civilian casualties."