The Chilcot report into Britain’s involvement in Iraq has overwhelmingly condemned the decision to go to war. It says bluntly that then British Prime Minister Tony Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein; the UK chose invasion before it had exhausted peaceful options; and that British intelligence produced “flawed information”.
Blair wrote to US President George Bush eight months before the invasion offering his unqualified support for war, saying, “I will be with you, whatever…Getting rid of Saddam is the right thing to do.” Blair insisted that the removal of Saddam Hussein would “free up the region” even if Iraqis may “feel ambivalent about being invaded” and “decide to offer resistance”.
Everything the report says about Blair also applies to then Australian Prime Minister John Howard. The report says that Blair and Howard were so determined to go to war that they discussed how to cut the UN out completely, “The implication would be that the US, UK and Australian troops should stay in the region indefinitely.”
Howard says he was “embarrassed” that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but insists the war was morally right.
Foreign minister Julie Bishop, who was part of the Howard Cabinet, repeated the lie that the invasion was based on the best information.
Andrew Wilkie, now an Independent MP, then worked for the Office of National Assessment (ONA). He resigned on 11 March 2003 as it became obvious Australia was about to join the US to wage war on Iraq. He said at the time, “[Iraq’s] military is very weak…Its weapons of mass destruction program is very disjointed and contained…And there is no hard intelligence linking the Iraqi regime to al-Qaeda in any substantial or worrisome way.” But that intelligence was ignored.
In the early hours of 18 March 2003, US President Bush called John Howard to ask that Australia commit troops to a war with Iraq. A few hours later, Howard’s Cabinet agreed. Blair used Howard’s decision the same day to bolster his case to the British parliament to join the so-called “Coalition of the Willing”.
Estimates of the numbers of Iraqis killed range from 200,000 to over one million. The invasion created a sectarian government and turned Iraq into a killing field. Two hundred and fifty died in an ISIS car bombing of a Shia area in Baghdad one day before the Chilcot report.
In October 2014, Australia joined a renewed US bombing campaign in Iraq.
Hundreds of thousands demonstrated in Australia to stop the war, joining millions around the world in February 2003. The Chilcot report is a chilling reminder that the anti-war movement was right. Bush, Blair and Howard are war criminals. And, as US bombing continues across the Middle East from Syria and Iraq, to drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, we still have to fight the warmongers.
By Ian Rintoul