Howard ’embarrassed’ by WMD intelligence that led to Iraq commitment

Former prime minister John Howard ’embarrassed’ by Iraq WMD intelligence; says Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech was ‘nonsense’

Former prime minister John Howard says he was “embarrassed” intelligence he used to take Australia to war in Iraq was inaccurate and denies it was a “deliberate deception”.


In an interview broadcast on the Seven Network, Mr Howard said he and the then National Security Committee of Cabinet in 2003 sent Australian troops into Iraq because they believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to the West.

“I was struck by the force of the language used in the American national intelligence assessment late in November 2002,” he said.

“It brought together all the American intelligence and paragraph after paragraph, they said, we judge Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.”

However, he said as evidence emerged that there were no weapons of mass destruction, he sought to explain the government’s decision.

“I felt embarrassed, I did, I couldn’t believe it, because I had genuinely believed it,” he told interviewer Janet Albrechtsen.

“So, I felt embarrassed and I did my best to explain … that it wasn’t a deliberate deception.

“It may have been an erroneous conclusion based on the available information but it wasn’t made up.”

Mr Howard also chided his successor as prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who he said initially supported the intelligence findings before later accusing him of “going to war on a lie”.

“Kevin Rudd made a speech saying that it was an empirical fact that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, he later on said that I had taken the country to war based on a lie, despite the fact he said it was an empirical fact, never one to understate things,” he said.

So much of the Islamic State operation comes out of what’s occurring in Syria and to suggest that it’s purely or predominately a result of what happened in Iraq in 2003 is a false reading of history.

Former prime minister John Howard

But former intelligence analyst turned independent MP Andrew Wilkie said Mr Howard should feel ashamed of his role in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“John Howard should be feeling a damn sight more than embarrassed. He should be feeling quite ashamed of himself,” he said.

“He should be feeling quite lucky that, conceivably, he hasn’t been charged with conspiracy to commit mass murder.

“The fact is that Australia joined in the invasion of Iraq 11-and-a-half years ago on lies.”

Mr Howard denied the conflict – led by United States and Britain – sowed the seeds for the formation of militant group Islamic State (IS), which has since seized control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

“If you’re seeking to locate the responsibility specifically to the 2003 invasion, let me put it to you that Syria was not involved in any outside military operation, but more than 200,000 have died in the Syrian civil war,” he said.

“And so much of the Islamic State operation comes out of what’s occurring in Syria and to suggest that it’s purely or predominately a result of what happened in Iraq in 2003 is a false reading of history.”

US president Barack Obama last month launched strikes against IS targets in Iraq and has foreshadowed the formation of a multi-national coalition to “destroy” the brutal Sunni militant group.

Australia has supported US efforts by delivering humanitarian and military aid to Iraqis under siege by IS fighters and sent fighter jets and about 600 troops, including special forces soldiers, to the Middle East to prepare for possible deployment in coming weeks.

Authorities last week said they had uncovered a plot by IS-linked operatives to abduct and execute a “random member of the public” from the Sydney streets.

Australia faces ‘real threat’ from terrorism

Mr Howard said there was a real threat of terrorism to Australia but advised against using that as a justification for slowing the rate of Muslim immigration.

john howard face image

He said a focus on integrating Muslim youths into the mainstream would help prevent them becoming radicalised.

I don’t think any Australian should assume we won’t have a terrorist incident here.

Former prime minister John Howard

Mr Howard said some people had spent too much time in closed communities where such radicalisation could occur.

“As many people know I’m not an overwhelming fan of the doctrine of multiculturalism,” he said.

“I believe in bringing people of different races, different religions, to this country but once you’re here you’ve got to become part of the mainstream community.”

Mr Howard said Australia still faced a real threat from terrorism.

“I don’t think any Australian should assume we won’t have a terrorist incident here,” he said.

Removing Rudd left Gillard with no authority: Howard

Mr Howard, who was prime minister from 1996 to 2007, also took aim at the trouble that plagued the Labor government after he was ousted from office.

He said former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard had “no authority” because of her involvement in replacing Mr Rudd as Labor leader in 2010.

“Having done the extraordinary thing in participating in removing a first-term prime minster and then not to win the subsequent election, meant she never had authority,” he said.


“She never exercised authority because she had to validate her extraordinary participation in an extraordinary act.”

He also dismissed Ms Gillard’s so-called misogyny speech in October 2012 as “nonsense”.

“The idea that Tony Abbott is anti-women is ridiculous. Just quite wrong,” he said.

“I think it’s the worst possible way of promoting a greater involvement by women in public life and something that I support, we should have more women in Parliament … is to play the misogyny card.

“And so many women of ability I know in the community poured scorn on that.”

Mr Howard said while the speech in Parliament attacking Mr Abbott and sexism attracted a lot of media attention, it failed to resonate with women.

An interview with Ms Gillard, who is releasing her memoirs next month, will air on the Nine Network this week.


Henry Sapiecha



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