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It's time the anti-war set was called to account for its failed intelligence

By Rob Shilkin - posted Wednesday, 6 August 2003

The revelation that, contrary to Allied intelligence, Iraq did not seek to purchase uranium from Niger is now the basis for a sinister attempt to rewrite history.

The opponents of Iraqi Freedom, from Bob Brown to Robert Manne, are arguing that the allied liberation of Iraq came about because of a massive fraud perpetrated on the world. They imagine a shady conspiracy, concocted in smoky rooms by the world's democratic leaders.

A vocal member of the anti-war movement, Manne wrote on 16 July that "the Anglophone democracies invaded Iraq on the basis of a lie". On 28 July, he wrote, emotively, "almost everything we were told about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein was false."


We are talking about a single piece of flawed intelligence in an entire jigsaw of undisputed evidence. Yet, according to Manne and his ilk, the Niger claim has retrospectively become the overriding reason for Australia's involvement in the war. They claim that Australians were knowingly duped.

This is nothing more than blatant revisionism. These claims are dishonest and dangerous.

The attempt at revisionism is possible because of a dichotomy in the reporting of the Iraq issue - only one side of the Iraq debate has been subjected to scrutiny about its pre-war intelligence. The anti-war set has not been made similarly accountable. From the day that the Iraq issue came onto the radar, it has been able to spout its unfounded assertions with impunity.

This is a disparity that must be corrected to bring balance to the historical record.

Further, it needs to be borne in mind for similar situations in the future. When one side of a debate is permitted to spout their claims without any analysis or accountability, as the anti-war set has been able to do, it is inevitable that the other side will feel the need to counter, by disclosing their own "best possible" information. This can conceivably lead to the premature release of information that has not been properly and fully tested.

If the media was even-handed in its analysis of both camps' information, it would be abundantly clear that the opposition to this war was based almost entirely on phony pre-war information and misguided speculation. Let us view just a very small sampling of these statements and give them the "Niger" treatment:


Greg Barns (a prominent Australian Democrat) stated that the US "so desperately wants to access" Iraq's oil reserves. Now that the US is putting oil revenues to work for Iraq, will he apologise for his false statement? What was the basis of this incorrect assessment? Who did he speak to? For that matter, will the entire rabblerousing "No Blood for Oil" crowd admit that they were totally wrong about Allied intentions?

A group of international lawyers who opposed the war based their views partly on the assertion that "From what we know of the likely civilian devastation of the coalition's war strategies" up to "250,000 [civilians] may die as a result of an attack using conventional weapons". Similarly, a large number of MPs parroted incorrect and unsubstantiated claims that up to 500,000 Iraqi civilians would die in any war. This number has been proven to be outrageously off the mark. Who provided this information? Did they test this estimate?

Will these MPs resign immediately for misleading Parliament? Will they submit to an enquiry into the wild inaccuracy of their claims?

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About the Author

Rob Shilkin is a lawyer at Clayton Utz in Sydney. His Op-Ed pieces on international affairs have been published in Australian newspapers and magazines.

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