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Bush, Blair and Howard – Three reckless adventurers in Iraq (Part 11)

The Iraq Inquiry Report (2009-2016) documents how Tony Blair committed Great Britain to war early in 2002, lying to the United Nations, to Parliament, and to the British people, in order to follow George Bush, who had planned an aggression on Iraq well before September 2001.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard conspired with both reckless adventurers, purported ‘to advise’ both buccaneers, sent troops to Iraq before the war started, then lied to Parliament and to the Australian people. He continues to do so.

Should he and his cabal be charged with war crimes? This, and more, is investigated by Dr George Venturini in this outstanding series.

Deception on a grand scale (continued)

There were obviously conditions necessary for military action.

Aside from the existence of a viable military plan the Cabinet considered the following conditions as necessary for military action and British participation: 1) justification/legal base; 2) an international coalition; 3) a quiescent Israel/Palestine; 4) a positive risk/benefit assessment; and 5) the preparation of domestic opinion.

Cabinet noted that:

“US views of international law vary from that of the UK and the international community. Regime change per se is not a proper basis for military action under international law. But regime change could result from action that is otherwise lawful. We would regard the use of force against Iraq, or any other state, as lawful if exercised in the right of individual or collective self-defence, if carried out to avert an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe, or authorised by the U.N. Security Council.” A detailed consideration of the legal issues, prepared earlier in 2002 was mentioned as Annex A but was not available with the document. The legal position would depend on the precise circumstances at the time. Legal bases for an invasion of Iraq are in principle conceivable in both the first two instances but would be difficult to establish because of, for example, the tests of immediacy and proportionality. Further legal advice was deemed to be needed on this point.

Cabinet noted that there was a possibility under the U.N. Security Council resolutions on weapons inspectors. As at the date of the document the Secretary General Kofi Annan had already held three rounds of meetings with Iraq representatives in an attempt to persuade them to admit the U.N. weapons inspectors. These had made no substantive progress; the Iraqis were deliberately obfuscating. Annan had ‘downgraded the dialogue but more pointless talks were possible’. The Cabinet thought that it would have needed to persuade the United Nations and the international community that this situation could not be allowed to continue ad infinitum. “We need to set a deadline, leading to an ultimatum.” decided the Cabinet. It would have been preferable “to obtain backing of a UNSCR for any ultimatum and early work would [have been] necessary to explore with Kofi Annan and the Russians, in particular, the scope for achieving this.”

From a practical point of view, the document recorded that “facing pressure of military action, Saddam is likely to admit weapons inspectors as a means of forestalling it. But once admitted, he would not allow them to operate freely. UNMOVIC [The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission set up through the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1284 of 17 December 1999], which was the successor to UNSCOM [the United Nations Special Commission set up to implement an inspection regime to ensure Iraq’s compliance with policies concerning Iraqi production and use of weapons of mass destruction after the Gulf War, and which had been directed by the Swede Carl Rolf Ekéus between 1991 and 1997 and by the Australian Richard William Butler, AC between 1997 and 1999] [might have taken] at least six months after entering Iraq to establish the monitoring and verification system under Resolution 1284.” Hence, even if U.N. inspectors had gained access at the time the document was recorded, “by January 2003 they would at best only just be completing setting up. It is possible that they will encounter Iraqi obstruction during this period, but this more likely when they are fully operational.”

The Cabinet considered that it might have been just possible “that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject (because he is unwilling to accept unfettered access) and which would not be regarded as unreasonable by the international community. However, failing that (or an Iraqi attack) we would be most unlikely to achieve a legal base for military action by January 2003.”

Furthermore, an international coalition was considered “necessary to provide a military platform and desirable for political purposes.”

The American military planning assumed that the U.S. would be allowed to use bases in Kuwait (air and ground forces), Jordan, in the Gulf (air and naval forces) and U.K. territory (Diego Garcia and the bases in Cyprus). The plans assumed that Saudi Arabia would have withheld co-operation except granting military over-flights. On the assumption that military action would have involved operations in the Kurdish area in the North of Iraq, the use of bases in Turkey would also have been necessary.

Problems were contemplated in securing the support of N.A.T.O. and the European Union partners in the absence of United Nations authorisation. It was simply discounted that “Australia would be likely to participate on the same basis as the United Kingdom”. The document records some miscalculation on the part of the Cabinet. It was thought that “France might be prepared to take part if she saw military action as inevitable. Russia and China, seeking to improve their US relations, might set aside their misgivings if sufficient attention were paid to their legal and economic concerns. Probably the best we could expect from the region would be neutrality. The US is likely to restrain Israel from taking part in military action. In practice, much of the international community would find it difficult to stand in the way of the determined course of the US hegemony. However, the greater the international support, the greater the prospects of success.” In the end many European countries openly opposed to military action in Iraq in March-April 2003: Belarus, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece and Russia.

A quick scan of opinion polls reveals that, while many governments were supporting the United States, the people of some of the ‘Coalition’ were solidly opposed to unilateral and even United Nations. Participation in the war can be explained in many ways and through many forms of pressure which had overcome a distinct lack of popular support in the following countries:

Australia: 56 per cent only supported U.N.-sanctioned action, only 12 per cent favoured unilateral action. 76 per cent opposed participation in a U.S.-led war on Iraq. The Australian Senate voted 33-31 to censure Prime Minister Howard for committing 2,000 soldiers to the U.S.-led action.

Britain: 86 per cent wanted to give weapons inspectors more time, 34 per cent thought that the United States and Britain had made a convincing case for invasion.

Czech Republic: 67 per cent were opposed to invasion under any circumstances.

Denmark: 79 per cent oppose war without a U.N. mandate.

Hungary: 82 per cent were opposed to invasion under any circumstances.

Italy: 72 per cent were opposed to war.

Poland: 63 per cent were against sending Polish troops, 52 per cent favoured a form of ‘political’ support for the United States.

Portugal: 65 per cent though that there was no reason to attack in early 2003.

Spain: 80 per cent were opposed to war, 91 per cent were against attack without a U.N. resolution. (A Coalition of the ‘Willing’? Misnomer, February 11, 2003, summary of public opinion on the invasion of Iraq).

In case of war, Cabinet wanted to rely on a quiescent Israel-Palestine problem. The gathered ministers observed that “Real progress towards a viable Palestinian state is the best way to undercut Palestinian extremists and reduce Arab antipathy to military action against Saddam Hussein. However, another upsurge of Palestinian/Israeli violence is highly likely. The co-incidence of such an upsurge with the preparations for military action against Iraq cannot be ruled out. Indeed Saddam would use continuing violence in the Occupied Territories to bolster popular Arab support for his regime.”

On the balance of benefits and risks, the document noted that the United Kingdom wanted to be sure that the outcome of the military action would match its objective of a “stable and law-abiding Iraq, within present borders, co-operating with the international community, no longer posing a threat to its neighbours or to international security, and abiding by its international obligations on WMD.” Prophetically, the Minister were concerned that “A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise. As already made clear, the US military plans are virtually silent [on] this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden. Further work is required to define more precisely the means by which the desired end-state would be created, in particular what form of Government might replace Saddam Hussein’s regime and the timescale within which it would be possible to identify a successor. We must also consider in greater detail the impact of military action on other UK interests in the region.”

As for ‘domestic opinion’ it was noted that time would have been required to prepare public opinion in the U.K. that it was necessary to take military action against Saddam Hussein. There would also have needed to be “a substantial effort to secure the support of Parliament. An information campaign will be needed which has to be closely related to an overseas information campaign designed to influence Saddam Hussein, the Islamic World and the wider international community.” This propaganda effort would have needed to give full coverage to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, including his WMD, and the legal justification for action.

Finally, as to timescales, it was noted that, although the American military could act against Iraq as soon as November, we judge that a military campaign is unlikely to start until January 2003, if only because of the time it will take to reach consensus in Washington. That said, we judge that for climactic reasons, military action would need to start by January 2003, unless action were deferred until the following autumn. [Emphasis added].

For the purpose, it was necessary “to influence US consideration of the military plans before President Bush is briefed on 4 August, through contacts between the Prime Minister and the President… ”

Tomorrow: Deception on a grand scale (continued)

⬅️ Part 10

➡️ Part 12


GeorgeVenturini Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini – ‘George’ devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975, invited by Attorney-General Lionel Keith Murphy, Q.C., he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra – to serve the Whitlam Government. In time he witnessed the administration of a law of prohibition as a law of abuse, and documented it in Malpractice, antitrust as an Australian poshlost (Sydney 1980).


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