Aussie Iraq report echoes US, UK findings

Eighteen months ago Australia, along with the United States and the United Kingdom, was a frontline member of President George W Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing”, and Australian Prime Minister John Howard was justifying a pre-emptive strike on Iraq on the grounds of Saddam Hussein’s access to and preparedness to use weapons of mass destruction. Australia committed 2 000 military personnel to the war — 850 remain today.

But this week Howard’s government has been mulling over a report by former senior Australian diplomat Philip Flood, which criticises the lack of proper evaluation of claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but which falls short of finding that Howard’s government placed pressure on agencies to deliver assessments justifying the war against Iraq.

Flood’s report, which examines Australia’s intelligence agencies’ capabilities, echoes similar findings made in reports delivered by the US Senate intelligence committee and Lord Robin Butler in the UK last week.

According to a report published on Tuesday in The Age newspaper, Howard’s government considered the Flood report at its regular Cabinet meeting on Monday this week.

But in contrast to his counterparts, Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, it appears that Howard is not using the Flood report’s criticisms of the actions of intelligence agencies in the lead-up to the Iraq war to reform Australia’s intelligence network.

Howard said this week: “I think we are very well served by our intelligence services and I don’t think there is a case for any big changes, any fundamental rearrangements.”

However, the Australian government has approved a major funding increase for one of the agencies that played a key role in interpreting intelligence in the lead up to the Iraq war, the Office of National Assessments (ONA). Howard is expected to announce shortly that the ONA will double the number of analysts it employs from the current 70 to nearly 150.

The ONA was singled out for criticism in March this year by an Australian parliamentary committee that found it did not examine the accuracy of claims about Iraq made by overseas agencies.

Howard is also rejecting claims from opposition parties that his government sought to influence the way intelligence agencies publicly presented data about Iraq. Howard said: “There was no political interference in the intelligence services. We have not heavied the intelligence services, we have not manipulated intelligence.”

The leader of the country’s largest opposition party, the Australian Labour Party, Mark Latham, said this week: “We … need to ensure that the government’s not just shifting blame on to the agencies. The government’s got to take the blame itself for the decision to go to war in Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist.”

Latham’s party opposed Australian participation in the Iraq war and wants to ensure the return of remaining Australian military personnel from Iraq by Christmas.

Howard has pledged to release an unclassified version of the Flood report to the public once his government has reviewed the findings.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Australia enters dragon’s den

China's stellar economic growth story continues. Gross domestic product climbed 9,5% in the first quarter this year and industrial production was up 16,2% on the same quarter last year. No wonder then that the Chinese are looking to Australia -- the world's largest exporter of aluminium and coal, to help fuel its long-term economic expansion.

Oz poll: All bets on Howard to take fourth term

Australian Prime Minister John Howard is on course to win a fourth victory in the general election this Saturday. Most opinion polls indicate that the results will be close, but Howard is firming up as the favourite. His opponent, Australian Labour Party (ALP) leader Mark Latham, needs to win 12 seats in the lower house of Parliament to gain government.

Howard under fire after Jakarta blast

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, facing a general election on October 9, has been one of United States President George W Bush's most reliable allies in the "war on terror". But the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, last Thursday by a radical Islamic group potentially makes Howard's loyalty to the US a political liability, as his political opponents accuse him of neglecting Australia's security.

All’s not well down under

The security of patrons at Australia's thousands of bars and nightclubs -- one of its major tourist drawcards --has been called into question after the death on January 19 of Australian international cricket player and commentator David Hookes.

‘Nigger’ causes uproar in ‘Deep North’

An Aboriginal activist is fighting to have the offensive word removed from the name of an Australian sport stand in a country where most white Australians regarded Aboriginals as uncivilised and inferior.

Scrum down over rights

The international media rarely descend on Australia -- the last occasion was the 2000 Sydney Olympics -- and for some Aboriginal Australians the Rugby World Cup has presented a rare opportunity to highlight the shabby state of indigenous affairs in many parts of the sport-mad nation.

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

Journey through anxious Joburg

A new book has collected writing about the condition of living, yes, with a high crime rate, but also other, more pervasive existential urban stresses particular to the Global South

Football legend Maradona dies

The Argentinian icon died at his home on Wednesday, two weeks after having surgery on a blood clot in his brain

Covid vaccines: Hope balanced with caution

As Covid vaccines near the manufacturing stage, a look at two polio vaccines provides valuable historical insights

Under cover of Covid, Uganda targets LGBTQ+ shelter

Pandemic rules were used to justify a violent raid on a homeless shelter in Uganda, but a group of victims is pursuing a criminal case against the perpetrators

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…