This statement, issued last week in Australia by the Iraq War Inquiry Group, is vital despite already being (unsurprisingly) dismissed by the political elites who have no desire to examine their obsequiousness to Washington:
On 16 August 2012, a group of concerned Australians met in Parliament House, Canberra, to call for an independent inquiry into how and why Australia decided to take part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The group included a former prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, a former secretary of defence, Paul Barratt and a former chief of the defence force, General Peter Gration. It was hosted and endorsed by three parliamentarians – Melissa Parke, Andrew Wilkie and Senator Scott Ludlam.
The group described the invasion of Iraq as a humanitarian, legal, political and strategic disaster that left a trail of death and destruction and millions of refugees, some of whom are trying to seek sanctuary in Australia today.
It was also concerned that although several independent inquiries about the war have been held in the United States, and three official ones, including the current Chilcot Inquiry, in Britain, Australia has shown less concern about inquiring into the war than about bushfires and floods. Two inquiries, in 2003 and 2004, reported on the role of the Australian intelligence services, as if government bore no responsibility for the decision to invade Iraq.
Why not? A journalist, commenting on the Canberra call for an inquiry, dismissed the call for an inquiry as if Iraq was a long ago and far away war with few Australian casualties, so it doesn’t matter. The Prime Minister, Defence Minister, and a former Defence Minister also dismissed the need for an inquiry. Julia Gillard said she could give a long answer about the war’s circumstances, but ”˜we’ve now got other issues’. Stephen Smith said lessons had already been learned, and an inquiry wasn’t warranted.
Robert Hill, who was Defence Minister when Australia went into Iraq, said that ”˜in his humble opinion, it would probably be better for Australia to focus on the issues of today and the issues of tomorrow than to try to re-guess matters of 10 years ago.’
But that is precisely the purpose of an inquiry – to look forward. We are likely again to face a situation similar to Iraq in the near future. It could be an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities by either Israeli or United States air forces followed by Iranian retaliation with catastrophic results. The situation in Syria could drift out of control into a full-scale war dragging in Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. A confrontation in the South China Sea between the naval forces of China and other regional states claiming sovereignty over groups of islands could rapidly escalate. A clash between Korean and Japanese forces over disputed sovereignty of the island Takeshima (to the Japanese) or Dokto (to the Koreans) in the Sea of Japan, could prove similarly explosive.
In any or all of these scenarios, Washington would expect Canberra to join it in military intervention. American troops could be deployed from bases in Australia. And the government of the day could again decide to go to war, without explaining to the Australian people or the Australian Parliament how that would be in Australia’s national interests, or what its costs and consequences would be.
John Howard did it in 2003. Julia Gillard or any of her successors could do it again.
This is why the Iraq War Inquiry Group called for an inquiry, and a change in the war powers of the Prime Minister. A decade after the invasion of Iraq, these are concerns of pressing relevance to today’s international situation.