Australian Prime Minister John Howard Questions War in Iraq

Another leader in the ‘Coalition of the Willing’, Hon. John Howard, the Prime Minister of Australia, has apparently had his eyes forced open and is now seeing reality more clearly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more heartfelt description of a man’s conscience moving him from advocating for and participating in an atrocity, to having deep and fundamental doubts about the wisdom and utility of the whole enterprise.

John Howard is certainly no peacenik; he has been one of President Bush’s most reliable allies on Iraq. A crack of this size in the Coalition represents an unavoidable challenge to the continued legitimacy of American military prescence in Iraq. Democratic leaders and candidates should certainly seize upon this statement an its contents to push harder for complete withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

Of course, I and others like me, will disagree still with Howard that the invasion could ever have been a success if only executed with greater planning and intelligence. I think that the very idea of invading another country that was not an immediate military threat to us or our allies is not only a stragetic blunder of monstrous proportions, but monstrously immoral.

The poor fiction that our government honestly thought Iraq an immediate threat to international peace and American security is now revealed as a tissue of barely plausible lies, as was apparent to so many from the begining. Like any enterprise founded upon lies and mendacity, Bush’s Iraq policy had to collapse under its own weight with such a false foundation. The tragedy, and the horrible crime, of Iraq is the thousands of our fellow citizens and innocent Iraqis claimed and maimed by that collapse. Bush is a criminal fully culpable for all those honored dead, and all those still yet to die as his monster lumbers forward inexorably. He deserves the same fate as that criminal Ossama bin Laden, for he surely has as much innocent blood on his hands, if not more.

The world took another step closer to accepting the hard and terrible truth that Iraq has been a tragic mistake with Howard’s appologia. Tomorrow, perhaps it can start to step past such a passive definition, and begin to see it for what it truly is: one of the greatest war-crimes of our time.

12 March 2006




 During our recent celebrations of the Coalition’s ten years in power, I
have, as Prime Minister, been publicly reflecting on our Party’s many
great achievements, as was appropriate to do. But on this occasion,
among old friends and senior colleagues, I wish to share some
unsettling thoughts about the situation in Iraq.

Three years ago in Sydney, when I spoke to the men and women of the
Australian Defence Force, who were gathered on the deck of HMAS
Kanimbla, I felt that above all other Australians, they were entitled
to know from me why it is that the Government had asked them to go to
the Persian Gulf and face the armed forces of a dangerous dictator.


I said then that all the intelligence material collected over recent
times, to which Australia had contributed, proved overwhelmingly that
Saddam Hussein had maintained his stockpile of chemical and biological
weapons and that he was on the brink of nuclear capability. This posed
a real and unacceptable threat to the stability and security of our
world. I said that unless Iraq was disarmed of its weapons of mass
destruction ­ totally and permanently ­ then the Middle East would
remain a powder keg, waiting for a match.


I sincerely believed that was true – on the best intelligence and
advice that was available at that time. On February, 2003, I told
Parliament, that disarming Iraq would bring enormous benefits to the
Middle East and be widely welcomed throughout the world. Unfortunately,
our expectations in this matter have not yet been realised. Even so, I
have continued to hold firm to our commitment, despite the ups and
downs of the occupation, because our alliance with the US is vital to
the security of Australia.


On May 19, 2004, after my return from a visit to Baghdad, I told the
Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne that the situation in Iraq was
rapidly improving. That the north of the country was relatively
peaceful and most of the south was reasonably stable. I pointed out
that Iraq was ‘no longer ruled by a loathsome and homicidal dictator,
and potentially hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved’. I
sincerely believed that at the time.


There had been so many encouraging signs of progress. Let me re-iterate
some of the signs I mentioned in 2004, and reflect on the situation
from today’s perspective, as we approach the third anniversary of the


I said then that electricity, water, telephone and sanitation were
gradually being restored to pre-war levels or above. Sadly, this did
not happen. As of February this year, 125 projects to provide
electricity have been cancelled. Of the 136 projects that were
originally pledged to improve Iraqi water and sanitation, only 49 will
be ever finished.


I said then that six major water treatment plants had been
rehabilitated. Perhaps I should have pointed out that these plants had
previously been destroyed by British and US bombs during the 12 years
of UN sanctions against the Hussein regime. Today, the water situation
in Iraq is dire. Billions of dollars have been shifted from rebuilding
vital infrastructure to guarding the borders of Iraq.


I said that all 240 hospitals as well as 1,200 health clinics were
fully operational, which was the advice we had received from the then
administrator, Mr Paul Bremer. Unfortunately, this turned out to be
overly optimistic. On November 2004, at the start the coalition¹s
pacification of the city of Falluja, the city’s General Hospital was
occupied by US troops and – I am sorry to say – that hospital staff
were handcuffed and some patients were dragged from their beds; perhaps
for good reasons. Snipers were posted on the roof of the building and
ambulances were strafed. On November, 6, the BBC reported that US air
strikes had reduced the newly built Nazzal Emergency Hospital to rubble.


One doctor reportedly told Reuters, and I quote: "There is not a single
surgeon in Falluja. We had one ambulance hit by US fire and a doctor
wounded. There are scores of injured civilians in their homes whom we
can’t move. A 13-year-old child just died in my hands." Now I do not
wish to labour the point. But it should be conceded that an impartial
examination actions of the Coalition of the Willing during operations
in Falluja has raised uncomfortable issues for our Government. On the
face of it, the Geneva Conventions and core articles of the UN
Declaration on Human Rights have been ignored. During the siege of
Falluja, many Iraqi women and children were caught in the line of fire
and some civilians were shot as they tried to swim across the Tigris.
It has even been reported that weapons of dubious legality were used in
Falluja, such as cluster bombs, napalm, incendiary white-phosphorus and
thermobaric, or "fuel-air" explosives, which can have the effect of a
tactical nuclear weapon without residual radiation.


The International Red Cross estimates that at least 60% of those killed
in the assault on the city were women, children and the elderly; a
pattern of destruction that has persisted throughout the occupation of
Iraq, and, as much as we would like to shut our eyes, this has served
to boost the recruitment of insurgents and harden their resolve. In May
last year, the city of al-Qaim near the Syrian border was the target of
a major offensive known as Operation Matador, which resulted in
hundreds of Iraqi casualties. This operation also displaced thousand of
civilians, destroyed entire neighborhoods, polluted water supplies and
put one hospital out of action. Six months later in al-Qaim, Operation
Steel wiped out the General Hospital, other medical centers, some
mosques and schools, even the electricity station.


These are the facts. There are many more examples. And they raise
serious concerns for the future predicament which our Government and
our party may find ourselves facing. We have been lucky up to this
point, because the full extent of the mayhem resulting from our U.N
sanctioned occupation has not been dwelt upon by the Australian media.
You can draw your own conclusions why this is so. However, having been
kept well briefed on the conflict by our intelligence agencies, and I
can assure you that many unpleasant details are still to emerge.


Also, on a personal note, it would be inaccurate for me to maintain
that the events unfolding during course of the occupation have left me
unmoved. It has long been my habit to keep aquainted with opinions
opposed to my own, and to canvas a wide range of views. If an edited
version of this talk is made available, it may reference sources from
the internet.


Under international law, all military forces owe a ‘duty of care’ to
the civilians of an occupied city. And I am starting to ask myself if
this is a commitment we have betrayed. In fact, I dare to wonder if we
have betrayed the very ideals that I invoked in my support of the


In my 2004 speech to the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne, I
said that, ‘Iraq now has a growing and robust independent media, which
is absolutely essential for the development and maintenance of a
healthy democracy’. Well, I am afraid that was a little premature. Our
US partners thought it necessary to suppress the more irresponsible
organs of opinion. Several editors were arrested. And while I accepted
assurances from our allies that the bombing of the Baghdad offices of
Al Jazeera in 2003 was an accident, I must say, that in light of the
recent unearthing of the Downing Street memo, the contents of which are
available to my Government, I now hold grave doubts about the official
story. All told, since the start of hostilities in Iraq, it appears
that 82 media personnel have lost their lives.


I must say, that it came as a surprise to members of my Government when
General George Casey recently re-asserted the right of the US military
to plant paid-for stories in the Iraqi press. We believe this sets an
unfortunate precedent, in that it may lead to suspicion among Iraqi
citizens that that the West prefers a paid press to a free press.


I also noted in my 2004 speech that ‘Australia had helped to
re-establish the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture, [and] set up a payments
system for the 2003 harvest and used our experience to help Iraqi
farmers bring in the bumper summer grains harvest’. Perhaps I should
have been more forthright about that experience. For many years the
Australian Wheat Board has been helping the Iraqi Government bring in
bumper summer grains from Australia. We have achieved this by
channelling millions of dollars of hidden commissions into the coffers
of the man previously described as a loathsome and repellent dictator.
To be frank, we had been privately funding a regime that we publicly
claimed was a threat to the world, and I can see now that this might
lead some people to question our probity.


All in all, since the war began I have consistently maintained that the
situation in Iraq was measurably better than it was under Saddam


I held to this belief even during the dark days of the Abu Ghraib
abuses, which caused many in the region to question whether democracy
would make the slightest difference. But I strongly argued at the time
that the difference would be apparent for all to see, because the
victims of abuse would not only able, but would be encouraged to speak
out, to seek redress and to find justice.


Sadly, very few victims have been able to find justice. And those
senior figures who issued the orders to turn up the heat on detainees,
have not been properly investigated. In the matter of our own citizen,
David Hicks, who remains to this day Guantanamo Bay, often in solitary
isolation, it is becoming increasing difficult to distinguish his
predicament from that which would have faced a prisoner of Saddam
Hussein. I believe the Department of Foreign Affairs has been remiss in
accepting the assurances of some US officials at face value.


I speak to you here openly, and with sadness. I have no intention of
repeating or elaborating these remarks outside this room. For decades,
many of you have stayed loyal the principles of our Party. However, it
is not wise for any leader to mislead himself, and I have no wish to
mislead you. Like our good friend Tony Blair, I too admit to episodes
of anguish. I worry the situation is getting worse. Not only in Iraq,
but elsewhere in the world. You will of course be making up your own
minds as you watch the news in the coming weeks.


I note that the latest US Country Reports on Human Rights concedes that
in Iraq, ‘civic life and the social fabric remain under intense strain
from the widespread violence’. The US ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay
Khalilzad, has said we have ‘opened a Pandora¹s box in Iraq’. There is
mounting evidence of arbitrary detention and torture committed by
government forces, both police and military.


During my recent trip to India, also horribly touched with extremist
violence, I was reminded by their soft spoken Prime Minister, Dr
Manmohan Singh, that the British had seriously erred by clinging too
long to their former colony. Despite widespread opposition to their
presence, British politicians continued to insist that their departure
would lead to chaos. Dr Singh said, ‘But it would be our chaos, don¹t
you see?’ At that moment I understood what he was saying.


There is tremendous pressure from the US for our troops to remain in
Iraq, and of course mutual loyalty is a vital component of the
alliance. But the longer the Coalition of the Willing remains, the more
we are detested, and the more blood is shed. The country is already
tearing itself apart, so I am asking you, could our departure really
make it any worse?


Perhaps it is time for Iraqis to regain control of their future, and
for the coalition of the willing to be willing to leave the stage. When
I say this, I speak as a troubled private citizen, and not as the Prime
Minister of Australia.


Flying home from India, I started to ask myself what a leader like
Mahatma Gandhi would do, but I feared I would not be able to live up to
the answer, unless I have some wise advice form my longtime friends.
Please look into your hearts and let me know what you find.


Thank you.


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