Australians for War Powers Reform (AWPR) will this week welcome the release of Sir John Chilcot’s long-delayed report on Britain’s involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The report will examine the way decisions were made, the actions taken, and the lessons to be learned.
Six years in preparation, it is based on interviews with more than 150 witnesses, some of whose statements were reduced to ‘gists’. Some of the 150 000 documents it uses had to be declassified, and others were restrained by ‘national security’ concerns.
Information already available indicates that Chilcot will reveal that Tony Blair’s decision for war was made a year before it happened; that he and President Bush agreed to represent Iraq as threatening the US and the UK, and providing illegal weapons it did not have to terrorists. Blair later changed his rationale for invading Iraq, to claim credit for overthrowing Saddam Hussein and for inciting pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East.
AWPR President and former Defence Department head Paul Barratt said, “Despite the gravity of a decision to go to war – the most significant decision a government can make – the issue of war powers did not feature in the recent election campaign. The 2003 invasion of Iraq was and is almost universally seen as illegal and a disaster for all concerned, and yet has not been subjected to a Chilcot-type inquiry in Australia. We need such an inquiry here.”
Barratt drew attention to our failure to learn from past tragedies: “Then PM Tony Abbott re-committed Australian forces to Iraq and Syria in 2015 without a debate or vote in Parliament, and with no clear strategy for their operations and no clear purpose. This is grossly inadequate for a democracy such as Australia.”
Australians for War Powers Reform advocates a requirement for thorough parliamentary debate and approval, based upon independent legal advice, before any ADF deployments into overseas armed conflict, inquiries after such deployments, and legislative change to prevent the power to commit forces abroad being exercised in effect by a prime minister alone.