2 June 2003

Iraq's arms: Hill raises new doubts
[Defence Minister] Senator Hill said it was important for Australians' confidence that "the full story is told".

"On the basis of what we understood, the action was the right action to take," he said in Singapore. "If it turns out there were flaws in what we understood, then I think we ought to say there were flaws. But it's too early to say that.

"We do need to establish the full picture because it's important as we move on to learn all that there is to learn from this experience, including the intelligence side."

Australia had relied mainly on US and British intelligence pointing to the stockpiling and continued development of weapons of mass destruction. Despite some differences in emphasis, analysis of that information by government agencies had "all pointed in the one direction".

"I'm quite comfortable that we made the right decision on the basis of the information that was available to us. In relation to intelligence, when you are dealing with a regime of deception such as Saddam Hussein's, it's not just black and white; you can't get absolutes. You've got to make a decision on the basis of the best information available and this was not a hasty decision."

An unnamed intelligence official has told the BBC that a vital claim in a dossier released by the British Government last September - that Iraq could launch a chemical or biological attack within 45 minutes of an order - was inserted on the instructions of officials in the office of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

Pressure on Britain intensified at a gathering of world leaders in St Petersburg, where Germany's Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, said: "I made it very clear that if there were no weapons of mass destruction then he, Tony Blair, should admit he has misused intelligence reports and has misled world opinion."

At the same time, the senior US marine officer in Iraq, Lieutenant- General James Conway, has conceded that intelligence reports that chemical weapons had been deployed around Baghdad before the war were wrong.

Senator Hill said 12 Australians with the weapons investigators in Iraq would eventually reveal the truth about weapons programs, and that information should be made public.

"I actually think that it's important for public confidence that the full story is told, even if it leads to a debate as to whether the intelligence was good enough or not. In terms of public confidence it needs to be open and frank."

I think this is important because it kills the silly theory that the lies don't matter because the alliance is all-important. I wonder what popular support for the alliance will be if the lies are confirmed as a matter of public record? I wonder also how far we can trust US intelligence if they are prepared to give us inaccurate information as persuasion to follow them into a war?

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