Howard defends Iraq war after damning report
9:55pm, Jul 7, 2016
“I defend the decision that I took. I don’t resile from it. I don’t believe it was the wrong decision.”
"There was no lie," former PM says. Photo: AAP
Former Australian prime minister John Howard, who took the nation to war in Iraq in 2003, has refused to admit to any mistakes despite the criticisms of a new UK report into the invasion.
The Chilcot report, delivered on Wednesday, slammed the decision of Britain to go to war in Iraq and ignited controversy in Australia over the nation’s past and present involvement in the quagmire of the Middle East.
“Do I apologise for the core decision? I defend the decision that I took. I don’t resile from it. I don’t believe it was the wrong decision,” Mr Howard told reporters on Thursday.
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Sir John Chilcot delivered a summary of the report on Wednesday. Photo: AAP
The UK report, headed by retired public servant Sir John Chilcot, found the invasion was based on “flawed” intelligence; that the British involvement was executed with “wholly inadequate” planning; that the UK government’s process of determining its legality was “far from satisfactory”; and that UK troops were sent in before all peaceful options had been exhausted.
In response, independent Australian politician Andrew Wilkie, a former intelligence analyst, called on Mr Howard, former British prime minister Tony Blair, and former US president George W Bush to face war crime charges.
“John Howard took Australia to war on the basis of a lie and stands accused of war crimes,” Mr Wilkie told reporters.
“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,” he said.
“Moreover, the Iraq debacle turbocharged al Qaida 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.”
Mr Howard refuted the claims: “There were errors in intelligence, but there was no lie.”
The Chilcot report took seven years to complete and has 12 volumes. Photo: AAP
Mr Wilkie is not the only analyst to argue that the chaos that ensued following the Iraq invasion in 2003 led directly to the birth of Islamic State and to hundreds of thousands of military and civilian deaths.
Former Defence secretary Paul Barratt told The New Daily that Mr Howard should stop blaming the intelligence community for his own poor decision making.
“He took Australia to war on false pretences, that he either knew or should have known,” Mr Barratt said.
“The remarkable thing about it was just how little a role intelligence played in the decision to go to war. It was completely politically driven,” he said.
“It was clearly the wrong decision because it was a disaster for all concerned. The intelligence community was warning that if they were going to do it they should be prepared for a messy aftermath. The current mess is direct result.”
Former diplomat Richard Broinowski, president of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, agreed that Mr Howard had tried to “spread the blame”.
“Howard, like Blair, has sought to spread the blame to others and refuses to apologise for Iraq,” Mr Broinowski toldThe New Daily.
Former UK prime minister Tony Blair also defended his actions. Photo: AAP
“This means that unlike Britain, we have not even begun to identify the lessons to learn from the war. Unless we investigate our own record in Iraq, and change our practice, a future prime minister could commit Australia to war just as fraudulently and easily as Howard and Blair did in 2003.”
Like Howard, Mr Blair also defended his actions after the report’s release saying: “I believe we made the right decision and the world is better and safer.”
According to Defence Department figures, Australia has dropped a total of 1,149 bombs on Iraq and 38 bombs on Syria since former prime minister Tony Abbott took the country back into the Middle East conflict in 2014.
The government does not release any information on civilian or military casualties.
Read the full report and executive summary here