Federal Politics


Howard's sketchy memory on Iraq

EVERY politician tries to rewrite history to his or her own advantage but if the rewrite is too far-fetched, they are likely to get caught out.

Take, for example, former prime minister John Howard's comments to the Australian Financial Review on Remembrance Day on his decision to commit Australian troops to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said he followed closely what happened to the servicemen and women who returned home.

''I speak of that in a personal sense. It was a decision that at the time had the strong support of the community. Certainly the dispatch to Afghanistan - the sending of the troops to Iraq was more controversial.''

More controversial! It was outright opposed by the vast majority of Australian people and a majority of people around the world. The protest marches around Australia on the weekend of February 15 and 16, 2003 - a month before the invasion - were bigger than any anti-Vietnam protests of the 1960s. Polls showed that before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, two-thirds of the Australian population opposed participation in the war without United Nations approval.

The United Nations never gave its approval. This wasn't just due to China's or Russia's refusal to go along with the war. Other world leaders did not swallow the lies pedalled by the Bush, Blair and Howard governments. Western democracies such as Canada, France and Germany did not participate in the ''Coalition of the Willing''.

The public opposition to the war was despite a relentless campaign of support by the News Ltd media empire. Some 175 Murdoch media outlets worldwide were reported in the Guardian newspaper to be pro-war, none was anti, a somewhat surprising statistic given the attitude of the public in countries such as Australia and Great Britain, where the papers were sold.


In Australia the empire kept up the campaign with The Australian bellowing on March 31, 2003: ''IRAQ THREATENS WORLD TERROR'', while on the same day the Sydney Daily Telegraph's front page pleaded on behalf of our servicemen's children: ''PLEASE DON'T HATE OUR DADS''.

The war was a misguided idea, developed by extremist politicians in the United States who lied to the world about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. Howard said just six weeks before the invasion, ''The Australian government knows that Iraq still has chemical and biological weapons and that Iraq wants to develop nuclear weapons.''

A good case can be made out to justify putting Howard, George W. Bush and Tony Blair on trial for their illegal war. Howard should not just recall the Australian dead and wounded resulting from the tragedy.

He should also consider the Iraqi people who now mourn their dead children, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers. The most conservative estimate of civilian death puts the figure at between 109,726 and 119,886 people between 2003 and 2011. But numbers do not tell the real story. The public rarely sees the real action - the killing and maiming. One glimpse came from a video WikiLeaks released in 2010. At least 18 people, including two journalists working for Reuters, were killed in air strikes by a US Apache helicopter, appropriately named Crazyhorse 18.

Circling above the city the helicopter crew focused on a group of men walking in the street, including the Reuters journalists.

The crew thought the men were carrying weapons and fired on them. Hit by the fire, one man crawled along the road.

A van carrying a father taking his two children to school arrived on the scene and he and two other men picked up the wounded man and began to carry him toward the van. It is clear from the video that none of these men were armed. But the helicopter requested and was given permission to fire on the van.

The video then shows ground troops arriving at the area. A soldier can be seen running, carrying one of the children wounded in the attack on the van. What has happened to these children? Does John Howard know? Does he care? And they are just two of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi wounded.

What of the refugees from this war? As of January 2012 the United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimated that a million people remained displaced throughout Iraq.

Hundreds of thousands of them live in dire conditions. Most are unable to return to their areas of origin because of the volatile security situation, the destruction of their homes or lack of access to services.

Do we remember them?

What was achieved by the war? Yes, a Middle Eastern tyrant was removed from office. Elections have been held and a Shiite prime minister installed. Shiite Iran is now a major influence in the country.

Ethnic and religious differences tear the place apart with suicide bombings and insurgents roaming the streets and no peaceful solution in sight.

But then again, Israel now has one of its Arab neighbours in turmoil and Western companies have a significant stake in oil and gas contracts.