After seven years of comprehensive investigation, the Chilcot report into Britain's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 has been released. The 2.6 million word report reveals that the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and by default the so-called Coalition of the Willing, had no justification for invading Iraq.
The basic premise for the invasion was that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and posed an imminent threat. This was in direct contradiction to advice from United Nations weapons inspectors, such as Hans Blix and Scott Ritter, who warned numerous times that Hussein didn't possess, nor was he developing, WMDs. This advice didn't suit the plans of US President George W. Bush who wasn't renowned either for his intelligence or his decision making. Bush wanted Iraq by hook or by crook, so he invented a threat and ran with it in the face of opposition from weapons inspectors, the UN Security Council and a number of nations. Bush made the childish statement that Hussein was the 'guy who tried to kill my daddy'. Mic drop. Invade Iraq.
When George Dubya's daddy was President of the USA, he attacked Hussein in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991. Hussein claimed that Kuwait was stealing Iraqi oil. It was a momentous victory. Bush Senior drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait but resisted a further push to drive Hussein out of power. The reason was because of intelligence warning that deposing Hussein would create a power vacuum in the Middle East, potentially causing the region to descend into chaos as multiple players vied for power.
George W decided this wasn't good enough. In an act of blatant hegemony (and looking every bit like a petulant teenager trying to prove himself to a demanding daddy) he found a reason, albeit a flimsy one, to invade Iraq, overthrow Hussein and establish a US presence and puppet government in the area. He ignored warnings that there were no WMDs and most seriously the warnings about the fall-out from such actions.
The result was up to one million Iraqi civilians dead, and the deaths of thousands of US soldiers, 179 British soldiers and two Australian soldiers. It also created the power vacuum that Dubya and his daddy had been warned about(1). The upshot was a dysfunctional and vindictive Shia government that sought retribution against Sunnis who'd support Hussein's Baath party.
Prior to the invasion, the biggest terrorist threat in the world was Al Qaeda led by Osama Bin Laden. Hussein and Bin Laden hated each other. While Hussein was in power, there was little to no presence of Al Qaeda in his country. In 2004, the year after the invasion, the Salafist terrorist group Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad joined forces with Bin Laden and established Al Qaeda in Iraq. Two years later the group renamed themselves Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). As the last of the American troops withdrew from Iraq and more than a thousand militant groups fought within Syria's civil war, ISIL, now Islamic State, came to prominence, occupying large areas through Syria and Iraq, and killing thousands of people.
The Coalition of the Willing was comprised of a number of states, particularly the USA, Britain and Australia. Then Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, has remained unrepentant about Australia's involvement in the Iraq war.
In the lead up to the invasion, Howard and his Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, made many ludicrous claims about Saddam Hussein, such as him having a human mincing machine(2). Hussein was an evil dictator who was responsible for horrendous human rights abuses so there was no need to exaggerate his malevolence, but exaggerate they did.
Howard blames the decision to invade on faulty intelligence. Others claim that the war was waged on the basis of a lie. Given the advice that there were no WMDs and that the invasion would dangerously destabilise the region, it is hard to accept Howard's assertion that he made the best decision on the information at hand.
This 'information' was plagiarised from a report written by a university student and then altered to suit the narrative used to justify the war. It became known as the 'dodgy dossier'(3). So was the Iraq invasion a lie or bad intelligence? I'm calling 'lie'.
Andrew Wilkie, an Australian intelligence analyst with the Office of National Assessments, was so concerned by the false intelligence being used to justify the war that he blew the whistle and resigned from his job. He later entered politics as an Independent.
Howard ignored the advice of Australia's intelligence agencies and chose an unnecessary and illegal war(4).
Tony Blair had been told by his Attorney-General that an invasion without UN Security Council resolution would be illegal. After pressure from Blair, the Attorney-General changed his advice to suit the government narrative(5). Sound familiar? The reasons for the war were a concoction and Prime Minister Howard bought into it.
The Chilcot Report states there was no justification for war and that the justification used did not have any evidence to support it. Howard may argue that this report has the advantage of hindsight. Yet, most telling of all is that at the time of the decision, the United Nations Security Council refused to sanction the invasion because of lack of evidence and the risk of regional destablisation. Countries such as Russia, Germany and France refused to partake in the illegal US-led invasion.
There are now calls for Tony Blair to be charged with war crimes in the wake of the Chilcot Report. While the report investigated Britain's reasons for the invasion, it is a damning indictment on Howard's judgement and honesty.
At the very least, a Royal Commission should be held into Australia's involvement in the disastrous war. Even before the release of the Chilcot Report, there were calls in Australia for an investigation or a Royal Commission. The Liberal Party has resisted the urge claiming that it is ancient history and there is no need for it. In the wake of the Chilcot Report, Paul Barratt, former head of the Defence Department, is also calling for an Inquiry into Australia's involvement in the war(6).
The Liberal Pary's refusal to investigate Howard's war is a little ironic. This from a party that held a number of investigations and a Royal Commission into the pink batts fiasco in which Labor ignored advice regarding the installation of ceiling insulation, resulting in the deaths of four young men. This from a party who held a Royal Commission into Union corruption which was nothing more than a witch-hunt to weaken Unions and ulimately discredit the Labor Party. This from a party that demands an investigation into an allegedly fraudulent text message that Labor sent under the auspices of Medicare during an election campaign. Yet the Liberal Party flippantly rejects calls for a Royal Commission into a decision that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and gave impetus to the most dangerous terrorist group the world has seen. It is clear where the Liberal Party's values lie. It is clear the Liberal Party is shackled hand and foot to its American overlords. It is clear they are content in covering up war-crimes and illegal invasions. This isn't really a surprise given their willingness to commit human rights abuses against asylum seekers, to breach international conventions on refugees, torture and the treatment of children.
Lying wasn't new to Howard. Nor was destroying innocent lives. In order to secure his re-election in 2001 and to retain power at subsequent elections, Howard used the fear generated from 9/11 to demonise and victimise asylum seekers in a number of incidents which he either manipulated for political gain or failed to tell the truth about as revealed in a Senate Inquiry, including the Tampa crisis, Children Overboard scandal and SIEV-X (in which 353 innocent people drowned).
'Honest' John Howard as some called him, must be investigated and should be charged with war-crimes along with members of his Cabinet, including then Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.
The Chilcot Report has vindicated what many of us already knew; that there was no justification for the war, that the invasion had no legal basis, Saddam Hussein was not an imminent threat, that the invasion would cost a vast number of lives, the blowback would be significant and would result in a Pyrrhic victory.
If it had been a Labor Party Prime Minister who did this, the Liberal Party would be apoplectic and screaming for blood.
John Howard led Australia to an illegal war on the basis of doctored and false intelligence costing hundreds of thousands of lives and creating a situation that has significantly increased terrorism across the globe.
1. International New York Times, Joel Brinkley and Eric Schmitt, 'Iraqi Leaders Say U.S. Was Warned of Disorder After Hussein, but Little Was Done', 30 November 2003, http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/30/international/middleeast/30PLAN.html. Accessed 7 July 2016.
2. Crikey, 'Howard's biggest Iraq porky', 4 March 2004, https://www.crikey.com.au/2004/03/04/howards-biggest-iraq-porky/. Accessed 7 July 2016.
3. Independent, Andrew Buncombe, 'Chilcot report: Student whose thesis became Tony Blair's 'dodgy dossier' accuses UK of systematic failure', 6 July 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/chilcot-report-author-of-dodgy-dossier-accuses-uk-of-systematic-failure-a7123136.html. Accessed 7 July 2016.
4. Sydney Morning Herald, Margaret Swieringa, 'Howard ignored official advice on Iraq's weapons and chose war', 12 April 2013, http://www.smh.com.au/comment/howard-ignored-official-advice-on-iraqs-weapons-and-chose-war-20130411-2hogn.html. Accessed 7 July 2016.
5. Independent, Kim Sengupta, 'How Goldsmith changed advice on legality of war', 1 July 2010, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/how-goldsmith-changed-advice-on-legality-of-war-2015252.html. Accessed 7 July 2016.
6. The Guardian, Ben Doherty and Kate Lyons, 'Australia needs its own Chilcot inquiry into Iraq war, former defence head says', 7 July 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jul/07/australia-needs-its-own-chilcot-inquiry-into-iraq-war-former-defence-head-says. Accessed 7 July 2016.