[amc] Australian PM: Reflections on the situation in Iraq

Hi all,
 
Please note John Howard¹s ³Reflections on the Situation in Iraq,² a
powerful, frank apology for the situation in Iraq.  He made the speech today
in Melbourne.  See below transcript.
 
Official Australian newsroom link --
http://www.johnhowardpm.org/speech1817.html

³Perhaps it is time for Iraqis to regain control of their future, and for
the coalition of the willing to be willing to leave the stage. When I say
this, I speak as a troubled private citizen, and not as the Prime Minister
of Australia. 

Flying home from India, I started to ask myself what a leader like Mahatma
Gandhi would do, but I feared I would not be able to live up to the answer,
unless I have some wise advice form my longtime friends. Please look into
your hearts and let me know what you find.²

Best,
Wilson

Speeches
12 March 2006

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER
THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP
ADDRESS TO THE DEAKIN SOCIETY, MELBOURNE
"REFLECTIONS ON THE SITUATION IN IRAQ"

During our recent celebrations of the Coalition's ten years in power, I
have, as Prime Minister, been publicly reflecting on our Party's many great
achievements, as was appropriate to do. But on this occasion, among old
friends and senior colleagues, I wish to share some unsettling thoughts
about the situation in Iraq.

Three years ago in Sydney, when I spoke to the men and women of the
Australian Defence Force, who were gathered on the deck of HMAS Kanimbla, I
felt that above all other Australians, they were entitled to know from me
why it is that the Government had asked them to go to the Persian Gulf and
face the armed forces of a dangerous dictator.

I said then that all the intelligence material collected over recent times,
to which Australia had contributed, proved overwhelmingly that Saddam
Hussein had maintained his stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and
that he was on the brink of nuclear capability. This posed a real and
unacceptable threat to the stability and security of our world. I said that
unless Iraq was disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction ­ totally and
permanently ­ then the Middle East would remain a powder keg, waiting for a
match.

I sincerely believed that was true - on the best intelligence and advice
that was available at that time. On February, 2003, I told Parliament, that
disarming Iraq would bring enormous benefits to the Middle East and be
widely welcomed throughout the world. Unfortunately, our expectations in
this matter have not yet been realised. Even so, I have continued to hold
firm to our commitment, despite the ups and downs of the occupation, because
our alliance with the US is vital to the security of Australia.

On May 19, 2004, after my return from a visit to Baghdad, I told the
Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne that the situation in Iraq was
rapidly improving. That the north of the country was relatively peaceful and
most of the south was reasonably stable. I pointed out that Iraq was 'no
longer ruled by a loathsome and homicidal dictator, and potentially hundreds
of thousands of lives have been saved'. I sincerely believed that at the
time. 

There had been so many encouraging signs of progress. Let me re-iterate some
of the signs I mentioned in 2004, and reflect on the situation from today's
perspective, as we approach the third anniversary of the occupation.

I said then that electricity, water, telephone and sanitation were gradually
being restored to pre-war levels or above. Sadly, this did not happen. As of
February this year, 125 projects to provide electricity have been cancelled
<http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/01/27/news/rebuild.php> . Of the 136
projects that were originally pledged to improve Iraqi water and sanitation,
only 49 will be ever finished.

I said then that six major water treatment plants had been rehabilitated.
Perhaps I should have pointed out that these plants had previously been
destroyed by British and US bombs during the 12 years of UN sanctions
against the Hussein regime. Today, the water situation in Iraq is dire.
Billions of dollars have been shifted from rebuilding vital infrastructure
to guarding the borders of Iraq.

I said that all 240 hospitals as well as 1,200 health clinics were fully
operational, which was the advice we had received from the then
administrator, Mr Paul Bremer. Unfortunately, this turned out to be overly
optimistic. On November 2004, at the start the coalition¹s pacification of
the city of Falluja, the city's General Hospital was occupied by US troops
and - I am sorry to say - that hospital staff were handcuffed and some
patients were dragged from their beds; perhaps for good reasons. Snipers
were posted on the roof of the building and ambulances were strafed. On
November, 6, the BBC reported that US air strikes had reduced the newly
built Nazzal Emergency Hospital to rubble.

One doctor reportedly told Reuters, and I quote: "There is not a single
surgeon in Falluja. We had one ambulance hit by US fire and a doctor
wounded. There are scores of injured civilians in their homes whom we can't
move. A 13-year-old child just died in my hands." Now I do not wish to
labour the point. But it should be conceded that an impartial examination
actions of the Coalition of the Willing during operations in Falluja has
raised uncomfortable issues for our Government. On the face of it, the
Geneva Conventions and core articles of the UN Declaration on Human Rights
have been ignored. During the siege of Falluja, many Iraqi women and
children were caught in the line of fire and some civilians were shot as
they tried to swim across the Tigris. It has even been reported that weapons
of dubious legality were used in Falluja, such as cluster bombs, napalm,
incendiary white-phosphorus and thermobaric, or "fuel-air" explosives
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1647716,00.html> , which can
have the effect of a tactical nuclear weapon without residual radiation.

The International Red Cross estimates that at least 60% of those killed in
the assault on the city were women, children and the elderly; a pattern of
destruction that has persisted throughout the occupation of Iraq, and, as
much as we would like to shut our eyes, this has served to boost the
recruitment of insurgents and harden their resolve. In May last year, the
city of al-Qaim near the Syrian border was the target of a major offensive
known as Operation Matador, which resulted in hundreds of Iraqi casualties.
This operation also displaced thousand of civilians, destroyed entire
neighborhoods, polluted water supplies and put one hospital out of action.
<http://www.warcrimeswatch.org/news_details.cfm?artid=155&amp;cat=7>  Six
months later in al-Qaim, Operation Steel wiped out the General Hospital,
other medical centers, some mosques and schools, even the electricity
station. 

These are the facts. There are many more examples. And they raise serious
concerns for the future predicament which our Government and our party may
find ourselves facing. We have been lucky up to this point, because the full
extent of the mayhem resulting from our U.N sanctioned occupation has not
been dwelt upon by the Australian media. You can draw your own conclusions
why this is so. However, having been kept well briefed on the conflict by
our intelligence agencies, and I can assure you that many unpleasant details
are still to emerge.

Also, on a personal note, it would be inaccurate for me to maintain that the
events unfolding during course of the occupation have left me unmoved. It
has long been my habit to keep aquainted with opinions opposed to my own,
and to canvas a wide range of views. If an edited version of this talk is
made available, it may reference sources from the internet.

Under international law, all military forces owe a 'duty of care' to the
civilians of an occupied city. And I am starting to ask myself if this is a
commitment we have betrayed. In fact, I dare to wonder if we have betrayed
the very ideals that I invoked in my support of the invasion.

In my 2004 speech to the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne, I said
that, 'Iraq now has a growing and robust independent media, which is
absolutely essential for the development and maintenance of a healthy
democracy'. Well, I am afraid that was a little premature. Our US partners
thought it necessary to suppress the more irresponsible organs of opinion.
Several editors were arrested. And while I accepted assurances from our
allies that the bombing of the Baghdad offices of Al Jazeera in 2003 was an
accident, I must say, that in light of the recent unearthing of the Downing
Street memo, the contents of which are available to my Government, I now
hold grave doubts about the official story. All told, since the start of
hostilities in Iraq, it appears that 82 media personnel have lost their
lives. <http://www.rsf.org/special_iraq_en.php3>

I must say, that it came as a surprise to members of my Government when
General George Casey recently re-asserted the right of the US military to
plant paid-for stories in the Iraqi press. We believe this sets an
unfortunate precedent, in that it may lead to suspicion among Iraqi citizens
that that the West prefers a paid press to a free press.

I also noted in my 2004 speech that 'Australia had helped to re-establish
the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture, [and] set up a payments system for the
2003 harvest and used our experience to help Iraqi farmers bring in the
bumper summer grains harvest'. Perhaps I should have been more forthright
about that experience. For many years the Australian Wheat Board has been
helping the Iraqi Government bring in bumper summer grains from Australia.
We have achieved this by channelling millions of dollars of hidden
commissions into the coffers of the man previously described as a loathsome
and repellent dictator. To be frank, we had been privately funding a regime
that we publicly claimed was a threat to the world, and I can see now that
this might lead some people to question our probity.

All in all, since the war began I have consistently maintained that the
situation in Iraq was measurably better than it was under Saddam Hussein.

I held to this belief even during the dark days of the Abu Ghraib abuses,
which caused many in the region to question whether democracy would make the
slightest difference. But I strongly argued at the time that the difference
would be apparent for all to see, because the victims of abuse would not
only able, but would be encouraged to speak out, to seek redress and to find
justice. 

Sadly, very few victims have been able to find justice. And those senior
figures who issued the orders to turn up the heat on detainees, have not
been properly investigated. In the matter of our own citizen, David Hicks,
who remains to this day Guantanamo Bay, often in solitary isolation, it is
becoming increasing difficult to distinguish his predicament from that which
would have faced a prisoner of Saddam Hussein. I believe the Department of
Foreign Affairs has been remiss in accepting the assurances of some US
officials at face value.

I speak to you here openly, and with sadness. I have no intention of
repeating or elaborating these remarks outside this room. For decades, many
of you have stayed loyal the principles of our Party. However, it is not
wise for any leader to mislead himself, and I have no wish to mislead you.
Like our good friend Tony Blair, I too admit to episodes of anguish. I worry
the situation is getting worse. Not only in Iraq, but elsewhere in the
world. You will of course be making up your own minds as you watch the news
in the coming weeks.

I note that the latest US Country Reports on Human Rights concedes that in
Iraq, 'civic life and the social fabric remain under intense strain from the
widespread violence'. The US ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, has
said we have 'opened a Pandora¹s box in Iraq'. There is mounting evidence of
arbitrary detention and torture committed by government forces, both police
and military. 

During my recent trip to India, also horribly touched with extremist
violence, I was reminded by their soft spoken Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan
Singh, that the British had seriously erred by clinging too long to their
former colony. Despite widespread opposition to their presence, British
politicians continued to insist that their departure would lead to chaos. Dr
Singh said, 'But it would be our chaos, don¹t you see?' At that moment I
understood what he was saying.

There is tremendous pressure from the US for our troops to remain in Iraq,
and of course mutual loyalty is a vital component of the alliance. But the
longer the Coalition of the Willing remains, the more we are detested, and
the more blood is shed. The country is already tearing itself apart, so I am
asking you, could our departure really make it any worse?

Perhaps it is time for Iraqis to regain control of their future, and for the
coalition of the willing to be willing to leave the stage. When I say this,
I speak as a troubled private citizen, and not as the Prime Minister of
Australia. 

Flying home from India, I started to ask myself what a leader like Mahatma
Gandhi would do, but I feared I would not be able to live up to the answer,
unless I have some wise advice form my longtime friends. Please look into
your hearts and let me know what you find.

Thank you. 

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