On June 2, while announcing the withdrawal of 550 Australian combat troops from Iraq, PM Kevin Rudd told parliament that all the arguments justifying the troop deployment in the first place were lies. This vindicates the anti-war movement's position since the 2003 invasion.
In his speech, Rudd accused previous PM John Howard (and, by implication, US President George Bush) of "the abuse of intelligence information" to manufacture false threats, such as Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and links between the secular former Iraqi regime and Osama bin Laden's religious terrorist movement. He said the Howard government was responsible for a "failure to disclose to the Australian people the qualified nature of the intelligence — for example, the pre-war warning that an attack on Iraq would increase the terrorist threat, not decrease it".
Rudd said that the financial cost of the war to Australia was $2.3 billion.
As in other "coalition of the willing" countries, the majority of people in Australia have always opposed the Iraq war. Anti-war sentiment contributed to the overwhelming rejection of Howard in last November's federal election and Rudd has tried to spin the withdrawal of the 550 troops as being the end of Australia's involvement in the war.
However, most Australian troops in Iraq will remain. While not classified as "combat" troops, the 800 remaining armed forces personnel are not deployed to help with reconstruction. They include soldiers guarding Australians in Baghdad's fortified "Green Zone", sailors guarding maritime oilfields, air force units, and advisors and trainers of death squad-linked, pro-occupation Iraqi forces.
In a June 2 media release, the Sydney Stop the War Coalition (StWC) said that most people understood Rudd Labor's election promise for a phased withdrawal of troops to mean "a total withdrawal of the troops in Iraq, and a formal end to Australia's participation in this unpopular war. Instead, the Rudd government is only reducing, not removing, Australia's military from Iraq.
"After more than 1 million Iraqi deaths, around 4.7 million people displaced (around 2.5 million internally and just over 2 million in other countries), Iraq's infrastructure devastated and the ongoing attempt to privatise its wealth, the war and occupation of this oil-rich nation has been a spectacular foreign policy failure. Even so, the Rudd government doesn't seem to have absorbed the lessons of the last five years."
Another reason for the troop reduction was given by defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon who said that Australia's military was "overstretched" between Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor. The government has indicated that the 1000-strong Australian troop contingent in Afghanistan will be neither reduced nor increased, despite the latter possibility being floated by the ALP during the election campaign.
Australian forces in East Timor were boosted in February by elite SAS soldiers despatched by Rudd in response to the shooting of President Jose Ramos Horta by rebels who, ironically, were Australian-trained.
In a move endorsed by Australian Democrats Senator Lyn Allison and the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, on June 2 Melbourne-based human rights group ICC-Action sent a legal brief to the International Criminal Court in the Hague accusing Howard of war crimes.
Among other crimes, the US-led occupation forces have been responsible for killing civilians through indiscriminate shooting and bombing; destruction of essential infrastructure; arbitrary detention of non-combatants; torture of civilians and prisoners of war; theft; fostering of violent conflict between different ethnic and religious communities and arming sectarian death squads; and the use of weapons of mass destruction such as depleted uranium (DU) rounds.
The effects of DU rounds are inter-generational, claiming victims long after the weapons are used. DU rounds used in then US president George Bush Senior's much shorter 1991 attack on Iraq created a fivefold increase in the rate of cancer and leukaemia in Iraqi children.
Describing the troop reduction as "a partial victory for the anti-war movement", StWC pledged to continue to campaign for all Australian and other occupation troops to be withdrawn from Iraq, for Australia to radically increase the number of Iraqi refugees allowed into the country, and in solidarity with Iraqi trade unions.
StWC received an email from the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions calling for international solidarity against threats and attacks by oil minister Hussein Al-Shahirstani against unionists at the South Oil Company in Basra. "Iraq continues to enforce the dictatorship-era labor codes that ban unions and collective bargaining for public sector and public enterprise employees in clear violation of ILO [International Labour Organization] conventions. Iraq has failed to adopt a basic labor law (as called for by its own Constitution) to protect the rights of all workers to free association, to form unions of their own choosing, to negotiate the terms and conditions of their labor, and to strike when necessary in defense of their interests", IFOU president Hassan Juma'a Awad said.
Shahirstani's attacks aimed to silence opposition to the selling off of the Iraqi oil industry to Western oil corporations, a policy imposed by the occupation forces. While Rudd admitted that the war was based on lies, he did not concede that the motive was oil, although opposition leader Brendan Nelson had admitted this while serving as Howard's defence minister.
Rudd's admissions were denied by White House spokesperson Dana Perino. "We acted on the intelligence that we had, and that the entire world had", she is quoted as saying in the June 3 British Guardian. "Since then we, of course, learned that there was not WMD in Iraq, and then the president took action to make sure that the intelligence community would be reformed."
Rudd's comments came in the same week as Barack Obama won the Democratic Party nomination for the US presidential elections and a book by former Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan was published ascribing the Iraq war to a sophisticated "political propaganda campaign" aimed at "manipulating sources of public opinion" and "downplaying the major reason for going to war".
As was the case with Rudd, the anti-war constituency could be important in getting Obama elected. "You will have a president who is determined to bring this war to an honourable close … Eight years from now we can look back and say we resolved that conflict in an honourable way", Obama was quoted on ABC Radio Australia on June 3.
Australia's contingent in Iraq was always small; its value as a statement of political support for the war was as significant as its military value. While there have been no Australian combat fatalities in Iraq, more than 4000 US troops have been killed. Traumatised by their brutal role and exhausted by extended tours of duty, morale in the US forces is low, and the number of conscientious objectors and military resisters is growing.
However, Obama has no strategy other than Bush's failed appproach of attempting to create proxy Iraqi security forces and communalist militias to take over from the occupying forces. This approach has succeeded in creating a civil war between religious communities who had previously coexisted peacefully, which has helped prevent the resistance from defeating the occupation militarily.
The US has not, however, been able to create a proxy able to maintain the post-occupation ecomomic order. Obama is therefore likely to keep US troops in Iraq, even if hoping to reduce the scale of the deployment.
The anti-war movement in Australia must highlight the hypocrisy of the Rudd government maintaining a "non-combat" presence in Iraq, and continue to campaign for all foreign troops to leave.