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Bush, Blair and Howard – Three reckless adventurers in Iraq (Part 32)

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 (continued)

A joint press conference was had on 13 February 2003 by Prime Ministers Blair and Howard.

As the Iraq Inquiry Report records:

“320. Mr Blair told Mr John Howard that the inspectors’ reports of 28 February should be the final reports to the Security Council.

  1. A BBC poll published on 13 February found that 60 percent of people questioned thought that the UK and US Governments had failed to prove their case that Iraq had WMD, and 45 percent said that the UK should play no part in a war on Iraq, whatever the UN decided. Fewer than 10 percent said that they would back a war with Iraq without a second resolution. [BBC News, 13 February 2003, Blair puts ‘moral’ case for war]
  2. Mr Blair and Mr Howard discussed Dr Blix’s forthcoming report and the prospects for a second resolution in a breakfast meeting on 13 February. [Letter Lloyd to Owen, 13 February 2003, ‘Prime Minister’s Breakfast with John Howard’].
  3. Sir David Manning advised that there would be a need to challenge Dr Blix’s likely assessment that there had been some movement on process and some movement on interviews; and to focus in public “on the underlying message that there was no fundamental change in attitude, and the key questions remained unanswered”. International opinion should not be allowed “to be distracted by nuances about process”.
  4. Other points which Mr Blair and Mr Howard discussed included: • Dr Blix was writing his report on the presumption that there would be more time and it was implicit in his approach that there would be more time. • Concern that the report would be critical of Secretary Powell’s presentation to the UN on 5 February. • Russia and China were likely to abstain in a vote on a second resolution and France and Germany might put forward a rival text.
  5. Mr Blair told Mr Howard that: “… people in the UK were suspicious that the US were eager to use force and did not want the inspections to work. They could accept the need for war, but not for war now. If Blix came up with a firm report that could change. The report on the 28th [of February] should be the final report. The US needed in parallel to ensure the support of the Security Council.”
  6. In response to Mr Howard’s assessment that a second resolution was not needed for legal reasons, Mr Powell said that UK lawyers were studying the issue. Mr Blair said it was needed for political reasons.
  7. In the subsequent press conference, Mr Blair stated that the discussion had been “dominated” by Iraq. [Australian Government – Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 13 February 2003, Joint Press Conference with Prime Minister, Tony Blair]

He and Prime Minister Howard had agreed that Iraq needed to disarm and resolution 1441 had to be upheld.

  1. Prime Minister Howard praised Mr Blair’s “strong and principled stance” and his “strong and effective leadership” and stated that he believed: “… very strongly that if the whole world speaking through the United Nations Security Council said with one clear voice to Iraq that it had to disarm then that would more than anything else be likely to bring forth the faint hope of a peaceful solution.”
  2. In reply to a question, Mr Howard stated that the problem was not time, it was Iraq’s attitude.
  3. Mr Blair was asked whether Iraq’s ballistic missiles were enough to justify military action; and whether the news overnight of a North Korean threat that its missiles could hit US targets anywhere in the world “presented a more urgent and larger threat to international stability”. He replied that the judgement on Iraq had to be “made in the round” in the context of resolution 1441. In relation to the need to confront the threat from North Korea, albeit “by different means”, Mr Blair emphasised that the United Nations would be “tremendously weakened and undermined” if it showed “weakness and uncertainty over Iraq”. That was “the key issue”. paras. 320-329, at 236-237

By the time the Security Council met on 7 March 2003 there were deep divisions within it on the way ahead on Iraq. Following President Bush’s agreement to support a second resolution to help Mr. Blair, Mr. Blair and Mr. Straw continued during February and early March 2003 to develop the position that Saddam Hussein was not co-operating as required by resolution 1441 (2002) and, if that situation continued, a second resolution should be adopted stating that Iraq had failed to take the final opportunity offered by the Security Council.

On 6 February Mr. Blair said that the United Kingdom would consider military action without a further resolution only if the inspectors reported that they could not do their work and a resolution was vetoed unreasonably. The United Kingdom would not take military action without a majority in the Security Council. Mr. Blair’s proposals, on 19 February, for a side statement defining tough tests for Iraq’s co‑operation and a deadline of 14 March for a vote by the Security Council, were not agreed by the United States. The initial draft of a U.S., U.K. and Spanish resolution tabled on 24 February, which simply invited the Security Council to decide that Iraq had failed to take the final opportunity offered by resolution 1441, failed to attract support.

Throughout February, the divisions in the Security Council widened. France, Germany and Russia set out their common position on 10 and 24 February. Their joint memorandum of 24 February called for a programme of continued and reinforced inspections with a clear timeline and a military build-up to exert maximum pressure on Iraq to disarm.

The reports to the Security Council by the International Atomic Energy Agency signalled increasing indications of Iraqi co-operation. On 7 March Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the I.A.E.A., reported that there was no indication that Iraq had resumed nuclear activities and that he should be able to provide the Security Council with an assessment of Iraq’s activities in the near future. Dr. Hans Blix, Executive Chairman of United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, UNMOVIC, reported to the Security Council on 7 March that there had been an acceleration of initiatives from Iraq and, while they did not constitute immediate co-operation, they were welcome. UNMOVIC would be proposing a work programme for the Security Council’s approval, based on key tasks for Iraq to address. It would take months to verify sites and items, analyse documents, interview relevant personnel and draw conclusions.

A revised draft U.S., U.K. and Spanish resolution, tabled after the reports by Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei on 7 March and proposing a deadline of 17 March for Iraq to demonstrate full co-operation, also failed to attract support. China, France and Russia stated that they did not favour a resolution authorising the use of force and that the Security Council should maintain its efforts to find a peaceful solution. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, U.K. Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, advised that a ‘side statement’ with defined benchmarks for Iraqi co-operation could be needed to secure support from Mexico and Chile. Mr. Blair told President Bush that he would need a majority of nine votes in the Security Council for Parliamentary approval for U.K. military action.

Development of United Kingdom’s strategy and options between 8 March and the start of military action overnight on 19/20 March is the subject of Section 3.8.

The second resolution was difficult to draft. Russia had made it difficult. France was also realising that there were major problems with invading Iraq, and suspected that the United States, the United Kingdom and Australian troops intended to stay there indefinitely. Chile also had problems.

Unperturbed, Australia committed troops on 18 March, even before other countries had decided that invasion should take place. Clearly, the proposed but unaccepted deadline of 17 March had little if any meaning for Prime Minister Howard. No time was given to Iraq to consider. President Bush had a 6.00 a.m. telephonic conversation with Howard on 18 March. That afternoon Howard made his statement to the Australian Parliament.

Section 4.4 is devoted to the search for weapons of mass destruction.

During and immediately after the invasion of Iraq, the search for such weapons was the responsibility of Exploitation Task Force-75, XTF-75, a U.S.-led military unit, with small U.K. and even smaller Australian contingents. [T. Vandal et al., The strategic implications of sensitive site exploitation, National Defense University, National War College, Washington D.C. 2003].

XTF-75 was deployed to carry out ‘sensitive site exploitation’, a military term for the exploitation of “personnel, documents, electronic files, and material captured at the site, while neutralizing the site or any of its contents.”

Officials had begun to consider the U.K. contribution to such ‘exploitation’ in early February 2003.

The Australian contingent was so small – whether by accident or deliberate decision – that it might have become unimportant to the working of the Force. The Force was in almost total control of the United States. What interested the Americans was Australian intelligence expertise. It seems that the U.S. was mainly interested in documentation, rather than actual weapons.

Tomorrow: Australia’s involvement in Iraq (continued)

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). He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.

⬅️ Part 31

➡️ Part 33

1 comment

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  1. wam

    as Alice said ‘it gets curiouser and curiouser’ as the plot grows and thickens.

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