The Guardian • Issue #2086

The Cabinet Papers and the Iraq War

Anti Iraq war rally.

Photo: CPA.

No one knows with certainty how many people have been killed and wounded in Iraq since the 2003 United States invasion. Between 280,771 and 315,190 have died from direct war related violence caused by the US, its allies, the Iraqi military and police, and opposition forces from the time of the invasion until March 2023.

This year’s cabinet papers contain material on the Iraq War which Australia joined as part of the ‘Coalition of the Willing.’ John Howard was Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Blair was British Prime Minister, and George W Bush was US President. Bush, along with a group of neocons, catapulted the three countries into a disastrous war which is still having repercussions today.

Tony Blair was damned by the 2016 Chilcot enquiry, which concluded that the UK “chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted.” Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by the Iraqi regime, disregarded warnings about the potential consequences of military action, and relied too heavily on his own opinions.

Blair has since become a wealthy man based on his ‘contacts in the middle east.’

Bush and Howard suffered no repercussions, no inquiries, no censure.

Howard was called a “man of steel” by George W because he went to war despite overwhelming opposition at home. He was invited to the Bush ranch and included on the lucrative US speakers’ circuit.

There are still calls for Howard to face an inquiry.

The politicians were pathetic, but the people were magnificent!

The weekend of 15 and 16 February 2003 was a historic period when people all around the world rose up and said NO to war.

Melbourne took to the streets after work on 14 Friday  February with a massive 150,000 strong protest. This gave a boost to other centres where huge crowds gathered in the capital cities over the weekend. Similar scenes were evident in other cities around the world and in the US itself.

This was a time in the peace movement where support was easy to come by. It was a time of great hope that there was enough impetus to push the government to stop its involvement in the invasion of Iraq.

The peace movement was called the “second great superpower” and it was a force to be reckoned with. It was a time of great hope that there was enough impetus to push the government to stop its involvement in the invasion of Iraq. History proved us wrong.

Howard responded by demanding that there be no Australian casualties in the invasion of Iraq because he feared the domestic reaction. No Australian soldiers died in Iraq.

President George W Bush came to Australia on 22 October 2003. He met with Prime Minister Howard and addressed Parliament.  However, the people were not impressed and organised Don’t be Bushwacked concerts to make fun of the arrogant and pretentious behaviour of both Howard and Bush.

A NSW peace group organised a limerick competition to mark the occasion:

  • Says Bush, its Iraqi skulduggery.
  • They are evil and cunning as buggery
  • So his troops he paraded, he bombed and invaded
  • In an act of unparalleled thuggery
  • The Cabinet Papers

Cabinet papers covering 2003 were released on 1 January 2024.  They do mention the war but some 70 documents about the decision to go to war were missing.

Almost all the decisions about the war were taken in the National Security Council (NSC) which included the Prime Minister and five other ministers. The minutes of these meetings are secret.

The papers show that Howard had extensive discussions with Bush and Blair about the “possible use of force to disarm Saddam.”

Howard told his cabinet that Iraq had “the potential to damage gravely Australia’s security” and “posed a real and unacceptable threat to international peace and security”.

The papers noted “an oral report by the Prime Minister on the progress of military operations in Iraq and the contribution made by the Australian Defence Force.”

Howard’s actions made certain four things would happen. Firstly, there would be no discussion of the ‘evidence’ of weapons of mass destruction which was questionable at best, no discussion of the sectarian chaos which would be released by toppling Saddam, or of possible military intervention by Iran.

Fourthly no discussion of the consequence for the alliance with the US. Howard was always ready to do everything to shore up the alliance – a policy other Australian prime ministers have continued.

With much publicity about the 70 missing cabinet papers, Prime Minister Albanese was forced to ask for a review. For this task he chose Denis Richmond, a typical cold war, secretive. pro-US former high ranking civil servant, He has been asked to deliver a report by the end of January 2024, but it will be years before we can find out the full extent of the crimes and lies of Australia in the Iraq War.

As today we watch the destruction of the children of Gaza, so too in 2003 the US ‘shock and awe’ tactics had a massive and traumatic impact on Iraqi children.

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