The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq lacked legitimacy under international law, an independent commission probing Dutch political support for the military action has said.
The inquiry was set up by the government following pressure from opposition politicians and the public to probe claims that crucial data had been withheld from Dutch decision-makers who opted to support the invasion.
"There was insufficient legitimacy" for the invasion for which the Netherlands gave political but no military backing, Willibrord Davids, the commission chairman, said.
The report also concluded that there was "no evidence" that the Netherlands, which sent about 1,100 troops to Iraq in July 2003 to take part in a UN-mandated post-invasion force, had made a clandestine military contribution to the initial invasion.
The commission's report said the wording of UN resolution 1441 "cannot reasonably be interpreted [as the Dutch government did] as authorising individual member states to use military force to compel Iraq to comply with the Security Council's resolutions".
|The probe found that Dutch policy on Iraq had been defined by de Hoop Scheffer [Reuters]
The text of the resolution, passed unanimously by the UN in 2002, offered Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations" laid down under several previous resolutions.
The Dutch probe, which started its work in March, found that policy on the issue had been defined by the country's foreign ministry under then minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who later became Nato secretary-general.
"The prime minister [Jan Peter Balkenende] took little or no lead in debates on the Iraq question; he left the matter of Iraq entirely to the minister of foreign affairs," the report said.
The commission also found that Dutch intelligence services did not have "any significant amount of independently sourced information" that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destructions, the main justification used by the US and Britain for the war and which were never found.
Balkenende, who is still prime minister, has repeatedly stated that Dutch backing for the invasion was based on the then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's refusal to respect UN Security Council resolutions.
The commission report said the Dutch government did not disclose to parliament the full content of a 2002 US request for support.
Last month, Hans Blix, who led the UN weapons inspection team in the run-up to the 2003 invasion, was highly critical of US and British policy over the war.
Blix said George Bush, the former US president, and Tony Blair, the ex-British prime minister, shared a conviction that Hussein was a threat, blinding them to the lack of evidence justifying war and causing them to mislead the public.
"The war, in my view, was illegal, yes. The British knew the evidence [of weapons] was thin, and they should have remembered that before they started shooting," Blix said
When questioned if he thought Blair could be tried for war crimes, Blix said: "Well, yes, maybe so. Well, we'll see. It's not very likely to happen."
An official inquiry into the war has started in Britain, with Blair set to testify in the coming weeks over the intelligence used to make a case for war.