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.
Australia’s involvement in Iraq
On 2 August 1990 Saddam Hussein ordered his army – then the world’s fourth largest standing military – to invade oil-rich Kuwait.
In response, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iraq, before finally authorising a US-led military coalition – including Australia – to eject the Iraqis from Kuwait.
Operation Desert Storm commenced with a one-month air bombardment campaign followed by a swift ground assault in February 1991, which was dubbed the ‘100-hour war’.
Iraq suffered about 100,000 casualties, while fewer than 200 coalition troops were killed in combat – several by ‘friendly fire’.
Australia’s main contribution was naval support in the northern Persian Gulf. Three guided missile frigates, a destroyer, and two support ships were deployed during the campaign. An Army air defence detachment was also sent to sea to protect the supply ships from possible air attack. Royal Australian Navy special forces clearance diving team was also sent for de-mining and demolition tasks. Australian medical teams served aboard U.S. navy hospital ships, and a small number of R.A.A.F. photo interpreters were dispatched to Coalition headquarters in Saudi Arabia. This is referred to as Australia’s First Gulf war.
Coalition aircraft continued to patrol the northern and southern No Fly Zones. Australians served on U.N.-sanctioned inspection teams which searched for weapons of mass destruction.
Economic sanctions were imposed on Iraq, enforced by a naval blockade which included Australian warships; the sanctions were frequently violated, including by Australia as will be seen.
Australia returned to Iraq in March 2003.
The official entry was announced by Prime Minister John Winston Howard before Parliament on 18 March 2003. The gist of the speech follows:
“We reject totally the argument put by France and by some other countries that the presence of inspectors will lead, over the passage of time, to disarmament. We cannot and will not ignore the experience of the last 12 years. We believe that the time has come to disarm Iraq, by force if necessary. We are participating in the US-led coalition to achieve this objective.
It is important to understand that the decision taken by the government is in accordance with the legal authority for military action found in previous resolutions of the Security Council. We supported, and would have preferred, a further Security Council resolution specifying the need for such action. We did so to maximise the diplomatic, moral and political pressure on Iraq, not because we considered a new resolution to be necessary for such action to be legitimate.
Our legal advice, provided by the head of the Office of International Law in the Attorney-General’s Department and the senior legal adviser to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is unequivocal. The existing United Nations Security Council resolutions already provide for the use of force to disarm Iraq and restore international peace and security to the area. This legal advice is consistent with that provided to the British government by its Attorney-General.
Security Council resolution 678, adopted in 1990, authorised the use of all necessary means not only to implement resolution 660, which demanded Iraq withdraw from Kuwait, but also to implement all subsequent relevant resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area. Resolution 687, which provided the cease-fire terms for Iraq in April 1991, affirmed resolution 678. Security Council resolution 1441 confirms that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations, a point on which there is unanimous agreement, including by even the Leader of the Opposition.
Iraq’s past and continuing breaches of the cease-fire obligations negate the basis for the formal cease-fire. Iraq has by its conduct demonstrated that it did not and does not accept the terms of the cease-fire. Consequently, we have received legal advice that ‘the cease-fire is not effective and the authorisation for the use of force in Security Council resolution 678 is reactivated’. It follows, so I am advised, that referring to the use of such force against Iraq as ‘unilateral’ is wrong. Any informed analysis of the Security Council resolutions leads to this conclusion.” (Australia, Hansard, House of Representatives, 12505, 18 March 2003).
Australia’s military commitment to the initial invasion, codenamed Operation Falconer, was larger than in the 1991 conflict.
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 R.A.A.F. deployed 14 FA-18 Hornet fighters, three Hercules transport aircraft and two Orion maritime surveillance planes.
The U.S.-led Coalition failed to find any weapons of mass destruction, but in less than a month it had captured Baghdad, destroyed the Iraqi military and deposed Hussein.
Most of the Australian forces involved in the initial invasion returned home, although small contingents were sent to Baghdad airport and to protect diplomats.
In 2003 the Australian contribution was re-named as Operation Catalyst, and an Army training team was deployed to assist in rebuilding the Iraqi military which had been disbanded following Saddam’s defeat. The complete dismantling of Saddam’s forces had further destabilised the security environment.
What followed were a steady slide into civil war between various Iraqi Sunni and Shia militias, an increasingly bloody insurgency campaign directed against the occupying Coalition forces, and a futile attempt to install governments which would at the same time try an experiment in democracy as understood by the occupiers, and compliance with their ideology – mainly neoconservatism.
In 2005 the Australian government committed troops to the reconstruction phase, a 500-strong Army task force was sent to the relatively peaceful Al Muthanna Province in the south of Iraq, on the border with Saudi Arabia, to protect a contingent of Japanese engineers.
When the Japanese left, the Australian task force relocated to Tallil Airbase in a neighbouring province.
By 2006, 1,400 Australians were serving in Iraq. Australia began withdrawing its troops in 2008, finally ending operations in July 2009. No Australian personnel were killed in action during the Iraq campaign.
The Iraq Inquiry Report contains scarce references to Australia – understandably. The automatic adherence by Australia to the policies of Great and Powerful Friends – Great Britain from the original invasion and the United States since after the end of the second world war keeps it in a position of vassal, a client state.
The powerful force of a Deep State seems to have been operating since the ambush of the Whitlam government in 1975.
But assumptions about Australian ‘patriotism’ go much further back and are a combination of a proclivity for violence which goes way back from the setting up of the first colony, has continued ever since and seems rather unexplainable in a populace largely indifferent but always ready ‘to solve a problem’ with a brawl. ‘Overseas’ is for that type of ‘adventure’, the purpose often escapes the participants – problems are simplified, no questions are asked.
What were Australians doing in Arkhangelsk in 1918-1919 ? “The remedy for Bolshevism is bullets.” was the blunt message of the editorial in Britain’s establishment newspaper, The Times, in 1919 as military forces from sixteen countries invaded Russia after the 1917 revolution. Among the invaders were about 150 Australian soldiers, as recounted in Michael Challinger’s history of the Australian role in the invasion.
Nine Australian soldiers were part of a British secret mission in 1918, the Elope Force, the apparent aim of which, that of countering a German foothold in the northern Russian port city of Arkhangelsk was soon dispensed in favour of the real purpose – to train and organise the counter-revolutionary Russian Army of the north and link up with the other White Russian armies to overthrow the Bolshevik government.
The British-led invaders had seized the city, and were running it as a military dictatorship under a puppet local government. By 1919 reinforcements of 15,000 foreign troops had joined the war against the Sixth Red Army. (M. Challinger, ANZACS IN ARKHANGEL:The untold story of Australia and the invasion of Russia 1918-1919, Richmond, Vic. 2010).
After the glorious retreat from Gallipoli in 1915, and the unmitigated slaughter at Fromelles in 1916, there is where Australians went in 1918 and 1919.
The Arkhangelsk adventure left 327 British, 244 American, 2 Australian and countless Russian soldiers dead.
Tomorrow: Australia’s involvement in Iraq (continued)
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). He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.