We went to war over a lie, says Crean
By John Kerin
September 16, 2003
JOHN Howard was yesterday accused of sending Australian troops to war on the basis of a lie as Simon Crean stepped up his attack on the Prime Minister's justification for invading Iraq.
Mr Crean said a British intelligence analysis that found attacking Iraq would increase the risks of terrorist attacks on the West demolished one of Mr Howard's pretexts that removing Saddam Hussein would help the war against terror.
On invasion day March 20, when Australian SAS soldiers were in western Iraq, Mr Howard said he believed the war would make it less likely that Australians would be targeted in terrorist attacks by removing the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
"Prime Minister, why were you telling the Australian people the exact opposite to what the British intelligence agencies had told you a month before?" Mr Crean demanded.
"There can be no more reprehensible a position for a Prime Minister to take than sending young men to war based on a lie," he said.
But Mr Howard said he had not seen or been briefed on the report at the time and neither had his staff nor other ministers.
"It was the judgment of the Government that the longer-term proliferation and terrorism risk of leaving Saddam's weapons of mass destruction in place outweighed the shorter-term risks," Mr Howard said.
The parliamentary row follows a report last Thursday from the Intelligence and Security Committee of the British parliament, which said the Joint Intelligence Committee had judged in February that a collapse of the Iraqi regime would increase the risk of chemical and biological warfare agents falling into the hands of terrorists.
The JIC analysis said there was no intelligence that Iraq had provided biological material to the al-Qaeda terrorist network.
The committee also told the Blair Government that al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations remained by far the greatest threat to Britain's security.
On February 27 as part of his justification for the coming war, Mr Howard said Iraq may pass on weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. He said yesterday the JIC report was received by Australian intelligence agencies on February 10.
Mr Howard told parliament yesterday that as was normal practice neither he, nor anyone in his office nor other Ministers had seen it, but it was used by Australian intelligence agencies to make their assessments on the risks posed by the war.
Mr Howard said one of the reasons the Government increased travel alerts after the war started was because of concerns raised by the JIC.
"It so happens that we thought getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do, you thought leaving him there was the right thing to do," Mr Howard said.
"If the world had listened to the Australian Labor Party, Saddam would still be in Baghdad."