Former prime minister John Howard has responded to the Chilcot Inquiry into the war in Iraq, maintaining his decision to send Australian troops into the conflict was justified at the time.
The long-awaited report, delivered by Sir John Chilcot, found then-British prime minister Tony Blair and his government led the country into a war based on flawed intelligence in 2003.
Mr Howard addressed the media today to respond to the report, and said while he respected Sir John’s findings he did not agree with all of them.
He said one of the most relevant findings to come out of the report was that there was no evidence to support claims that intelligence used to justify the war on Iraq had been doctored by Western governments.
“The joint intelligence committee, which is the broad equivalent in the United Kingdom of the Office of National Assessments in Australia, accepted ownership of the dossier and agreed its content,” he said.
“There was no evidence that intelligence was improperly included in the dossier or that Number 10 improperly influenced the text.”
Howard ‘had no reason to disbelieve’ Blair
Mr Howard said despite the report’s criticisms of Mr Blair’s decisions, he agreed with the British prime minister’s decisions at the time.
“You’ve got to remember this particular conclusion of Chilcot is an expression of opinion based on his retrospective – subsequent, rather, after the event judgement of events,” Mr Howard said.
“I shared the view that Tony Blair expressed, otherwise my government may have taken a different approach.
“I can’t put myself in Tony Blair’s mind. I have no reason to disbelieve what he’d said. I always found him a thoroughly honourable and honest person to deal with.
“He genuinely held the views that he expressed as far as I could see and I have no reason to disbelieve him.”
Mr Howard said while he was sorry for those who had suffered as a result of the conflict in Iraq, he was justified in making the decisions he did in 2003 because they were informed by the best intelligence available at the time.
“As I understand it, there were no [Australian] battle deaths in Iraq but obviously I am sorry for the wounds or injuries that anybody suffered,” he said.
“That applies no matter whether a military conflict is a matter of controversy or not, but if you’re saying to me do I apologise for the decision that I took, the core decision? Well, I defend that decision.
“Of course I defend it. I don’t retreat from it.
“I don’t believe, based on the information available to me, that it was the wrong decision. I really don’t.”