The opposition Labour Party said on Saturday that the report showed Prime Minister John Howard had taken Australia to war on the basis of a lie and owed the electorate an apology.
Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said Howard used “the greatest intelligence failure since World War II” as justification for committing Australian troops to the Iraqi invasion.
“If John Howard had any sense of self-respect today he would apologise to the Australian people for taking them to war on the basis of a lie,” Rudd told reporters.
“John Howard claimed that Iraq possessed stockpiles of completed chemical and biological weapons. He said we had to go to war to remove those weapons so that they would not get into the hands of terrorists,” he said.
The US Senate intelligence committee’s report found that US intelligence agencies mischaracterised Iraq’s weapons programs, and its key judgments were either overstated or not backed up with evidence.
Rudd said Howard had been forced to simply accept US intelligence on weapons of mass destruction because his government never gave Australian intelligence officials sufficient resources to check the accuracy of the claims.
“John Howard’s central failing was to rely almost exclusively on US intelligence which has now proven to be false and not to give the Australian intelligence community the resources to independently vet the intelligence product coming from America,” Rudd said.
Rudd repeated Labour’s call for a royal commission – the most
powerful judicial inquiry available under the Australian system,
with the power to jail witnesses who refuse to testify – into
pre-war intelligence failures.
Iraq has emerged as a key issue in a national election due later this year, with Labour pledging to withdraw Australia’s deployment by Christmas if elected and the government committed to staying in Iraq “until the job is done”.
Australia has about 850 troops involved in the Iraq campaign,
down from 2,000 during the early months of last year’s US-led invasion.