During ‘Question Time’ in the House of Representatives on Tuesday 16th June, Andrew Wilkie (Member for Denison in Tasmania), asked Prime Minister Tony Abbott the following question:
“The Iraq war has raged for 12 years and created the circumstances for the rise of Islamic State, and all on the basis of the lies about weapons of mass destruction and Osama bin Laden. Seeing as we helped to start this war and create the Islamic state threat, will you acknowledge the Howard government got it very wrong and agree to a proper war inquiry?”
Wilkie has previously pointed out that the Howard government attempted to justify its involvement in the US-led invasion of Iraq on two grounds, namely that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and that the regime was co-operating with the al-Qaida terror network. It was only a matter of time, the Australian people were warned, that the terrorists would get their hands on these WMD, and threaten us all. As Wilkie pointed out, “no WMD were ever found, nor any evidence of links between Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. The war was, in fact, based on a lie.”1
The question raised by Wilkie in that same statement is perfectly legitimate: “How on earth does Australia now find itself bearing witness to an Iraq spiralling out of control with any number of nightmare outcomes possible?” As he emphasised then, people who refuse to learn from the mistakes of history are destined to repeat them.
Given the Coalition’s decision to re-enter the war in Iraq, in slavish support of US-led military interventions in the region and with the backing of the Labor Party, a properly constituted Iraq War Inquiry may well offer compelling reasons for not repeating the mistakes made by former Prime Minister John Howard and the then National Security Committee of Cabinet in 2002/2003.2
In his response to Wilkie’s question, Abbott said that he would prefer to focus on the “threat we currently face” rather than on a “threat that you can argue about endlessly from a decade or more ago.” Apart from recycling the false claim that Iraq posed a “threat” in 2003 i.e. possessed WMD – an extraordinary statement in its own right – Abbott’s resistance is more likely to be based upon a fear that an inquiry may reveal the truth about why Howard and his cabinet, of which Abbott was a member, accepted “inaccurate” intelligence from US sources that was at odds with advice received from the government’s own intelligence community at the time.
The British government’s delay in releasing the Chilcot Inquiry into the 2003 invasion of Iraq is instructive in this regard. It has been reported that this inquiry “is mired in increasingly heated argument about the criticism it intends to make of some of the leading individuals involved, including Tony Blair, his foreign secretary, Jack Straw, and the then head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove.”3
According to Wilkie, Australian spies knew the US was lying about Iraq’s WMD program. So why didn’t the Howard government and his ministers, including Abbott, choose to believe them?4
Only a proper war inquiry could provide an answer to this burning question. However, as revealed in his answer, it appears that Abbott is more concerned about protecting his “team” than he is in the truth and national security.
1. Andrew Wilkie, ‘Unforgivable war built on a lie’, Andrew Wilkie’s website, (accessed 17 Jun 2015).
2. Mark Corcoran, ‘Australia in Iraq: A brief history of Australia’s involvement from 1991-2014’, ABC News, Sydney, updated 15 Sep 2014
3. Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘Chilcot inquiry into Iraq war may be delayed beyond 2015’, The Guardian, 21 Apr 2015.
4. Andrew Wilkie, ‘A lack of intelligence’, SMH, 31 May 2003.