Australian Iraq War Enquiry – Was there one?

When George W. Bush decided to leash war on Iraq in 2003, Australian’s then prime minister John Howard claimed the same arguments as Bush. That Iraq was secretly aiding terrorists and creating weapons of mass destruction.

The mission was to locate and destroy those suspected Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Australia’s contribution to the initial invasion was as follows:

  • The Navy deployed three ships and a clearance diving team in the northern Persian Gulf
  • The Army sent a 500-strong special forces task group supported by three Chinook helicopters
  • The RAAF deployed 14 FA-18 Hornet fighters, three Hercules transport aircraft and two Orion maritime surveillance planes

John Howard was adamant in defending the war, saying that it was justified at the time. This was despite the scathing Chilcot report that came out by the UK, on the decision of Tony Blair, British Prime minister to go to war in Iraq in 2003.

The report concludes that Britain decided to join the war before exhausting any peaceful options for disarming Iraq. It said that Tony Blair exaggerated the requirement to go to war and the report found that there was no immediate threat from Sadam Hussein. What was more, Bush did not listen to the UK about any post-war planning and the UK military was not equipped for going to war. The war according to the report was a complete failure.

This has led to a push for an Australian enquiry into the Iraq war. The former Australian’s Greens Leader, Christine Milne spoke of the importance of having a similar inquiry for nations such as Australia who had gone to war but their leaders had not been held accountable.

However, after the release of the Chilcot Enquiry, John Howard, who had committed Australian troops to the invasion was firm on his decision about having gone to war in Iraq. In his words “I believed that the decision to go into Iraq was justified at the time and I don’t retile from that because I thought it was the right decision”.

He went onto say that he regretted the loss of life due to the war and that he was willing to be held accountable for what occurred in the war but waiting for advice could lead to disastrous outcomes. In his view, the decision he took was right at the time.

On the other hand, Paul Barratt, who headed Australia’s defence department from 1998-1999 said the Chilcot Report showed the “fragility” of the process for deciding on whether to go to war or not. He also stated this weakness still exists in Australia.

He also stated that after the huge failure in Iraq, UK went on to strengthen checks and balances around UK’s decision to go to war by making it a practice to have a debate at the House of Commons over decision to send troops to war. In comparison he stated Australia had no such process. He strongly advocated having a similar report to the Chilcot report for Australia. He believes that an independent inquiry is important to see how the decision was made to commit Australia to the Iraq war.

So far there has been no concentrated effort in Australia to come up with a report similar to the Chilcot Report, despite there being a push for it, but it can be seen that various colleagues of Howard, have cast doubts on his decision to go to war and that it was the best decision at the time to take.