Iraq War was a crime: John Howard should face justice

John Howard has blood on his hands.
Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Chilcot Inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq War has prompted calls for a similar inquiry into the Coalition government, then led by John Howard, taking Australia into war in 2003.

Andrew Wilkie, the only intelligence official from the US, Britain or Australia to dispute the official explanation for the Iraq War, said on July 7 there should be an investigation into the Howard government's decision to go to war.

Senator Scott Ludlam agreed on the need for an inquiry and said the Greens would re-introduce a War Powers bill requiring parliamentary approval before Australia can enter a war.

The 7-year-long 2.6 million word Chilcot Inquiry found there was no imminent threat from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein; the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) were overblown; the consequences of the invasion were underestimated; planning for Iraq after the invasion was inadequate; distorted intelligence produced a “damaging legacy”; and the invasion was a failure.

More than 1.5 million people were killed in the invasion and aftermath, according to Just Foreign Policy in 2013, a death rate of about one in every 17 or 18 Iraqis. The country's infrastructure was wrecked, its natural resources privatised and sectarianism was fanned by the occupying forces protecting corrupt puppet regimes.

Wilkie said at the time there was no imminent threat from Hussein, and because peaceful options had not been exhausted, the war itself was a crime.

“Then-Prime Minister John Howard took Australia to war on the basis of a lie and stands accused of war crimes. That he has never been held to account, and that his Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is now Australian High Commissioner to London, is quite simply outrageous.”

Socialist Alliance national co-convener Alex Bainbridge said an inquiry into the “treacherous role” of Australia's government in providing political support for the US-led war based on a lie was important, but it couldn't end there.

“We need to bring the warmongers to account: Howard, Downer and the rest of them need to face justice.

“Not only have so many people been killed by the imperialists' invasion and occupation, Iraq has been devastated. We now have a permanent US-led war in the Middle East and, as a consequence, the world is a more dangerous place.

“Those found to be responsible should face justice.”

Like other terrorism experts, Wilkie has directly linked the US invasion to the creation of a new generation of terror groups.

He said: “The Iraq debacle turbo-charged al-Qaeda and created the circumstances for the eventual emergence of Islamic State. In other words, the terrorist danger confronting Australians to this very day is a result of Australia's involvement in Iraq.

“The blood of the Australians killed in the 2005 Bali bombing, and in the Lindt Cafe siege and elsewhere, is on their hands.

“These matters have never been properly investigated in Australia and there remains a pressing need for an inquiry similar to Chilcot.”

It is a testament to the mass anti-war movement in the lead up to the war, and the anti-war veterans groups particularly in the US, that some military heads have endorsed the inquiry call.

Paul Barratt, head of the Australian Department of Defence, from 1998 to 1999, told the July 7 Guardian “[The Chilcot inquiry] has revealed so much about what was going on behind the scenes, between Blair and his advisers, Blair and his cabinet, Blair and Bush. Australia needs a similar comprehensive independent inquiry into how the decision was made to commit Australia to this war.”

However, Jim Molan, chief of defence operations in the second year of the war, has no regrets about Australia's involvement in the war. He said Chilcot's finding that all peaceful options had not been exhausted before invading Iraq was only a “judgment”.

“He's correct”, Bainbridge told Green Left Weekly. “But the evidence in this report should be enough for Blair to be charged with war crimes. That's why we need something similar here for Howard and Downer.”

In 2003, Howard sent 2000 Australian soldiers to join the US-led invasion of Iraq, widely dubbed the “Coalition of the Killing”, repeating the lie that Iraq possessed WMDs to justify an illegal war of aggression.

This was despite UN weapons inspector Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed El Baradei repeatedly stating that there was not enough evidence to ascertain if Iraq had WMDs to justify an invasion. On February 14, 2003, Blix told the Security Council that Iraq was being more cooperative and rebutted the war mongering of then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Howard ignored all this. But, given the high level of opposition to the Iraq war — a million people took to the streets across the country in opposition on February 14, 2003 — Howard was keen for the UN to authorise the invasion.

Howard agreed with Blair that “it would be politically easier with a UN resolution” because then-Labor leader Simon Crean said his party would only support the war with such authority. That did not come before the invasion, but Labor switched sides anyway and supported the war “to be realistic”, as Crean said at the time.

“Permanent war in the Middle East is one of the horrendous legacies of the Iraq War and the invasion of Afghanistan before that”, said Bainbridge, who was active in the anti-war protest movement at the time.

“There is no question the millions of people were right to protest the Iraq invasion. We were right to stand up against this monstrous and brutal war. We were right to say it was a war crime. We were right to say the politicians who led the drive to war — especially George W Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard — were war criminals. They are war criminals, and they should be brought to justice. The first step could be such an inquiry.”

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