JAMES O’NEILL. Australia and the Iraq War: some new revelations.

“It is difficult not to conclude that Howard’s statement to Parliament on 18 March 2003 following his telephone conversation with Bush was a political statement designed to bolster what was an untenable decision to commit Australia to yet another foreign war on behalf of the Americans.”  

     On 25 February 2017 the Sydney Morning Herald published an exclusive story they entitled “The Secret Iraq Dossier”. The news item and a follow up piece in the SMH of 27 February 2017 was based on a Defence Department analysis written by Dr Albert Palazzo from the Directorate of Army Research and Analysis, a military think tank. The SMH obtained a redacted copy of Dr Palazzo’s report under Freedom of Information legislation.

The analysis was written between 2008 and 2011 and runs to 572 pages. There has been very little reaction to the Herald’s revelations in the Australian media. The Defence Ministry itself dismissed the Palazzo Report as “an unofficial history” which only represented the author’s own opinions. If they differed from those opinions they were careful not to say so.

There has been no comment from the Labour Opposition, perhaps arising out of their own complicity in committing Australia to an illegal war. That the war was illegal is not open to serious doubt for the reasons the present writer set out in an earlier article published by Pearls and Irritations on 7 January this year. (1)

In that article I wrote the following:

“It is difficult not to conclude that Howard’s statement to Parliament on 18 March 2003 following his telephone conversation with Bush was a political statement designed to bolster what was an untenable decision to commit Australia to yet another foreign war on behalf of the Americans.”

That view has been confirmed by Palazzo’s report. The report makes abundantly clear that John Howard committed Australia to joining Bush in the invasion of Iraq for the overriding purpose of strengthening Canberra’s ties to Washington.

Palazzo describes Howard’s statements about enforcing UN resolutions, combatting global terrorism and contributing to the post-war reconstruction of Iraq as “mandatory rhetoric.”

Howard and then chief of Defence Staff Peter Cosgrove then ensured that Australia’s actual contribution to the Iraq War was designed in such a way as to minimize actual casualties “due to the possible negative effects on the domestic political environment.”

In the event, Australia suffered no fatal casualties, which is more than can be said for the unfortunate Iraqis whose losses from the war and its aftermath now exceed one million fatalities. (2)

Palazzo quotes a number of Australian officers who were clearly frustrated by their inability to make a significant military contribution, and by the “failure of the organisation to inform them of what they were supposed to achieve in Iraq.”

Clearly, Australia’s political leaders did not expect them to achieve anything other than a showing of the flag in such a way as to reassure the Americans as to Australia’s undying fealty to the alliance. Palazzo notes that having a sustainable combat-capable contingent (which it manifestly was not) was “secondary to the vital requirement of just being there.”

There are a number of lessons to be drawn from Palazzo’s report. The first is that it is now six years since the report was finished, yet there has been no parliamentary debate about the efficacy of this sham flag waving exercise in actually contributing to Australia’s national security.

Secondly, it reinforces the point that unlike the Dutch and the British, successive Australian governments have refused to conduct a proper inquiry into the circumstances of how Australia became involved in the Iraq War. Palazzo’s report leads to the inescapable conclusion that exposure to the real reasons, a pathetic attempt to curry favour with Washington, is potentially and hence to be avoided at all costs.

Thirdly, it exposes yet again the willingness of Australia’s political leadership to disregard international law and fight in a remote war on behalf of a foreign power that completely lacked any legitimacy for its actions. It is impossible to see how Australia’s national security interests are served by such reckless and illegal behaviour.

It is a mistake that has been repeated in Syria. Should the Americans be stupid enough to get involved in a shooting war with Russia, over Crimea for example, or China over the South China Sea, then there is little doubt on past performances that Australian governments will repeat the same mistake.

The difference with the latter two examples is that Australia is highly unlikely to escape as unscathed as was the case in the Iraq War.

Finally, it should reinforce yet again the urgent need for a mature and intelligent debate about the future direction of Australian foreign and defence policies. As the Palazzo report makes clear, that maturity and intelligence is sadly lacking at present.


  1.  Lessons from the Iraq War: A Reappraisal. Pearls and Irritations 7 January 2017
    2.  Ibid.

James O’Neill is a Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at joneill@qldbar.asn.au

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michael lacey

Howard and his colleagues need to be put on trial for war crimes! Seems labour would have been in the same boat had they been in office!

This country could rue the day they do not have a more independent foreign policy!

Peter Small

While many more eminent than me, have argued that Howard ought to be tried for war crimes in respect to the Iraqi war, what about the more current situation of Turnbull agreeing for Australia to participate in bombing raids in Syria. This was done without an invitation of the sovereign government of Syria nor an appropriate UN resolution. There was surely no evidence that Australia’s national security was being effected by the Government of Syria trying to defend itself from terrorist! Surely such action by Turnbull constitutes a war crime? Can someone more knowledgeable than me please explain the situation?

David Thackrah

The imminent global meeting of Australian Heads of Station may mean something if their collective wisdom and knowledge is in any way used ?