New revelations about Australia and the Iraq War

Nov 30, 2018

A new ABC report, quoting from a previously classified document, reveals that the Australian government decided in early 2002 to join the American led Iraq War, but failed to disclose that to Parliament or the public.

A newly declassified document, originally compiled by Dr Albert Palazzo of the Australian Army’s Land Warfare Studies Centre, has been publicized on the ABC’s news website. Professor Clinton Fernandes of the University of New South Wales obtained the 156-page report.

There are two key paragraphs in the ABC report. It quotes Professor Fernandes as saying that the Palazzo Report discloses that the Howard government had decided in early 2002 that Australian Defence Force personnel would be dispatched to the United States Central Command headquarters in Florida to begin planning the Iraq War.

Fernandes goes on to say that the Howard government has already decided, in early 2002, to join the US operation in Iraq. This decision was kept from Parliament, the ADF at large, and the Australian public.

The ABC article goes on to detail how ill-prepared the Australian forces were when they did go to Iraq in March 2003. Much is made of the lack of fresh clothing and the poorly thought out vaccination program!  This emphasis is completely misconceived.

It is worthwhile briefly recapping the relevant sequence of events, as they demonstrate what Phillipe Sand called a grand and disastrous deceit. (1)

John Howard, the then prime minister, told parliament on the 4th of March 2003 (the eve of Colin Powell’s infamous address to the United Nations Security Council) that the government would not make a decision “unless and until it is satisfied that all achievable options for a peaceful resolution have been explored.”

Howard went on to make the unequivocal statement that “the Australian government knows Iraq still has chemical and biological weapons and that Iraq wants to develop nuclear weapons.”  He even repeated the discredited claim that “uranium has been sought from Africa (sic) that has no suitable application in Iraq.” This is an echo of George Bush’s similar claim in the latter’s State of the Union address in January 2003.

On 18 March 2003 Howard introduced a resolution into the House seeking authorization for Australian military action in Iraq. The resolution claimed that United Nations Security Council resolutions 678, 687 and 1441 provided “clear authority for the use of force against Iraq.”

Howard also claimed that the legal opinion he had obtained supported military action against Iraq, and that the advice was consistent with the legal advice the United Kingdom government had received.

The first part of that claim was true. The Australian government did indeed have legal advice to that effect. Two civil servants, Bill Campbell and Chris Moraitis from the Attorney General’s and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade respectively, had drawn up that advice.

The kindest thing that could be said about that legal opinion is to borrow a word from Lord Alexander.  His view of the amended opinion of Lord Goldsmith, the United Kingdom attorney general, after the latter’s quick trip to United States. Was that the opinion was “risible.”(2)

Howard to his credit did table the legal opinion in parliament, which is in contrast to the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments that have refused to release the legal advice they received in respect of Australia’s involvement in the Syrian war.  They have even lied about when that advice was received, as I have pointed out elsewhere.

The legal posturing was, we now know incontrovertibly, mere window dressing. The Dutch inquiry into their involvement in the Iraq war, and the Chilcott inquiry in the United Kingdom both concluded, along with the vast majority of international lawyers, that the Allied attack upon Iraq was without a shred of legal justification.

We also now know a number of other things we were not told in February/ March 2003.  These include the fact that the invasion of Iraq was an agenda item on the first Bush Cabinet meeting in 2001.

We also know that Vice President Cheney’s Task Force had, in early 2002, drawn up a map dividing Iraq’s lucrative oil fields among its corporate supporters.

The so-called Downing Street memorandum compiled by Sir Richard Dearlove, Head of the U.K.’s MI6, and dated 23rd of July 2002, was disclosed in the course of the Chilcott enquiry. That memorandum stated, “military action was inevitable,” terrorism and weapons of mass destruction would be the public justification, and that the “intelligence was being fixed around at the policy.”

The disclosure in the Palazzo Report that the Howard government had decided in early 2002 to join the United States in its illegal war in Iraq is not a revelation to those who have followed this saga from the outset. That the ABC should note the deceit but then focus on the lack of a change of clothes and inadequate vaccinations says volumes about the lack of pressure for holding those accountable for what is, and continues to be, an appalling war crime.

Successive Australian governments since 2003 have a refused to hold a proper enquiry. The reasons are now even more obvious. The ongoing disaster in the Middle East is a direct consequence of our involvement in a war based on lies and illegality from the outset.

The matter should not be allowed to rest there.


  1. Phillipe Sand, A Grand and Disastrous Deceit. London Review of Books Vol 38 Number 14, 28 July 2016 pp9-16.
  2. Lord Alexander, Iraq: Pax Americana and the Law, Justice, May 2014.

James O’Neill is a Barrister at law and geopolitical analyst.  He may be contacted at

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