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BFCSA: Iraq invasion a 'strong causation' of terror threat today, says former Labor leader Simon Crean

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Iraq invasion a 'strong causation' of terror threat today, says former Labor leader Simon Crean

Sydney Morning Herald July 8, 2016 - 10:07PM

David Wroe


Former Labor leader Simon Crean has said there is a "strong causation" between the controversial 2003 Iraq invasion and the immediate terrorism threat that Australia faces today.

Mr Crean, who led Labor when it opposed the invasion, told Fairfax Media on Friday that then prime minister John Howard had "gone to war on a lie".

His broadside followed a scathing assessment by former prime minister Paul Keating of Mr Howard's decision to send troops, and adds to a list of senior Labor figures who have savaged Mr Howard's decision.

Mr Crean dismissed Mr Howard's claim following the release of a damning British report into the Iraq war that critics were enjoying the benefit of hindsight.

He said one of the key themes of the Chilcot report was that former British prime minister Tony Blair had acted "on sentiment" rather than facts – a criticism, he said, could also be made of Mr Howard.

"I think that sums up where John Howard was too. He was more driven by his view about what the US alliance required him do than by the evidence."

 An Australian navy clearance diving team on patrol in Iraq in 2003. Photo: Kate Geraghty

He said "it can't be denied" that the absence of an exit plan or a post-invasion strategy had destabilised Iraq and fuelled the terrorist threat.

Mr Crean said he had not been convinced that the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed. Labor believed weapons inspectors should be given more time, he said.

Former soldier and Labor frontbencher Mike Kelly, newly re-elected to the seat of Eden-Monaro, said that "at the very least, there was a willing suspension of disbelief" - echoing the Chilcot finding that intelligence should have been challenged but was not.

 "Normal contestability you'd want to see applied when you're talking about going to war, wasn't entered into," he said.

He said he knew of a former employee of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation who claimed to have sounded the warning before the invasion that the Saddam regime did not have WMDs as alleged.

"It would be nice to have his claims aired and tested," he said.

Dr Kelly said the thing he resented most about the Iraq "adventure" was that it had distracted from the more pressing job of stabilising Afghanistan.

Former Labor leader and Washington ambassador Kim Beazley has also criticised the invasion on these grounds, saying it took Australia and its allies "down the garden path".

Mr Howard has stood by his decision, giving interviews and a press conference in which he denied that all diplomatic options had been exhausted as the Chilcot report stated, and accusing critics of enjoying the benefits of hindsight.

The report reveals Mr Howard was at a breakfast meeting with Mr Blair about a month before the invasion at which British officials discussed pre-emptive plans to challenge a weapons inspectors' report they believed would be unfavourable to the case for war.

Questioned about that meeting on ABC's Lateline on Thursday, Mr Howard said that inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot had been "very negative about Blair … very negative about most aspects of the British government's conduct".

Mr Howard's defence minister at the time, Robert Hill, could not be reached for comment on Friday.


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