Australia joined the United States, Britain, Denmark and Poland in a military invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003.
The invasion of a sovereign country, 18 years ago, was a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter: the United Nations Security Council had not authorised it and the invaders’ justification was based on lies.
The subsequent war devastated Iraq, causing the deaths of more than 500,000 Iraqis and destroying civil infrastructure, including homes, schools and hospitals, and which led to the loss of electricity and water supplies.
Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to abandon their homes and the war zone. The Saddam Hussein government had been a firm opponent of al-Qaeda but, following the invasion, Iraq became a virtual training camp for Islamic extremists.
How did the leaderships of the five invading countries seek to justify this war of aggression?
The George W Bush administration repeated, endlessly, that Hussein and his government had to be removed because Iraq allegedly possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and therefore was a threat its neighbours, the US and the world. It was also claimed that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons.
The US and its allies claimed that, to make the world safe, Hussein and his government had to be removed.
A declassified report released by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on February 8, 2011, confirmed that the US believed Iraq only had the capability to make short, not long-range ballistic missiles. It also acknowledged that the status of its nuclear enrichment program was “under development” but was “not operational”.
By its constant repetition of another lie, the Bush administration created a perception that the Iraqi government was connected to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks, even though no such connection existed.
Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair repeated and embellished Bush’s war rhetoric, as did Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard.
This continued even as the 500 United Nations weapons’ inspectors in Iraq were reporting that they did not find weapons of mass destruction or evidence of a nuclear weapons’ program.
Indeed, in the years since the invasion no such evidence has ever been found.
Given that the official justification for the US invasion of Iraq was founded on lies, what were the real reasons?
James O’Neill put it this way in an article published in July 2016 by Australians For War Powers Reform:
“The [US Vice President Dick] Cheney Task Force with its maps dividing up Iraq’s oil riches among western oil companies was one motive for waging an unjustified and illegal war of aggression. Meeting the wishes of the Israeli government, as set out in the 1982 Yinon plan, was another. Saddam Hussein’s decision to trade oil in other than US dollars was also a crucial factor.”
O’Neill’s view that Iraqi oil was one of the real reasons for the invasion is supported by a report in the Sydney Morning Herald of December 21, 2002.
“As the United States’ Secretary of State, Colin Powell told the world that Iraq was in ‘material breach’ of its Security Council obligation, a notice went out from his department convening a meeting of the Future of Iraq, Oil and Energy Working Group. The meeting, hosted by the State Department this weekend, is to discuss the restoration and modernization of Iraq’s oil fields in the “post Saddam era”.
Following the invasion, the March 25, 2003 Brisbane Courier Mail reported: ”BHP Billiton could join the oil rush expected to follow a US-led victory in Iraq”.
Despite the largest anti-war demonstrations ever organised in Australia, with upwards of 600,000 taking part, Howard pressed on and introduced a resolution into the House of Representatives on March 18, 2003 seeking authorisation for military action in Iraq. The resolution relied in part on assertions that Iraq continued to possess and develop WMDs.
In Britain, as more people believed Blair had lied to them, the pressure mounted for an inquiry into why and by whom the country had been taken into this criminal war.
This led to the Chilcot inquiry, which was set up in 2009. Its report into the invasion and unsuccessful search for WMDs, published seven years later, found that the threat posed by Hussein was overplayed, the intelligence was flawed, post-war planning was inadequate and the legal basis for the invasion was unsatisfactory.
In August, 2012, former prime minister Malcolm Fraser was among others to call for an independent inquiry into the decisions that led to Australia joining the US-led invasion of Iraq.
Interviewed by the ABC in August 2012, Fraser said: “Going to war is a really serious matter … We know that the war was begun on a lie; we know that evidence was fabricated. We know that, certainly in Britain and the United States, they knew that claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were in many respects false and yet they still went to war on that basis”.
But no such inquiry was initiated.
In October 2015, Independent MP Andrew Wilkie called for an inquiry similar to the Chilcot one, saying the Australian government must be held to account. His call came after former Blair admitted the war had contributed to the rise of terrorism. No such inquiry has eventuated.
In July 2016, barrister James O’Neill argued that the case for an Australian Iraq War inquiry was compelling.
“Ignoring the evidence and an overt willingness to join US foreign policy misadventures has led to one of the greatest policy debacle in Australian foreign policy history. It has resulted in the deaths of more than one million Iraqis and millions more displaced and their lives destroyed ... That the principal perpetrators of the Iraq War, Bush, Blair and Howard have thus far escaped accountability for waging a war of aggression in unconscionable. Australia must have a Chilcot type inquiry and judicial processes must follow their inevitable conclusions.”
The decision making that led to Australia’s taking an active role in the Iraq War are still to be understood. The need for an inquiry is even more pressing now that war clouds are building up in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
Australia may be faced with a decision to either join the US in a war with China or remain neutral.
These issues are currently being examined by the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network People’s Inquiry into the Costs and Consequences of Australia’s Involvement in US-led wars.
[Bevan Ramsden is a member of IPAN and editor of its monthly e-publication Voice. Submissions to the IPAN inquiry are being sought from individuals and organisations. For details visit IPAN. A protest against the war has been called by anti-war activists on March 20 at 2pm at Sydney Town Hall Square.]