A newly declassified report obtained by Fairfax Media reveals Australia’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq was undertaken solely to enhance our alliance with the US. David Wroe investigates.
Saddam Hussein and his depraved sons still had six hours and 41 minutes to meet US President Bush’s ultimatum to leave Iraq when Australian SAS soldiers slipped through a breach in the mud berm along the Jordanian border and entered Hussein’s country.
When they set foot into Iraq ahead of the March 20 deadline, their mission was to find and seize the Scud missile sites from which the coalition feared Saddam might launch weapons of mass destruction at Israel to drag it into the conflict and provoke a backlash from other Arab countries. For such an important task – especially as weapons of mass destruction were the chief stated reason for the invasion – there was strangely “a near total lack of hard data on the number and location of Iraq’s launchers”, Palazzo wrote. “The concern over the possibility of a launch was not matched by a timely US intelligence effort to identify probable launch sites or hiding points.”
As it turned out, Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and no Scud launchers at the ready in the western desert. The SAS would ultimately look to do more, asking for their area of operations to be extended – a request also made by the Americans and cautiously approved by Sir Peter – so they could capture Al Asad Air Base, which admittedly was not defended and which Palazzo described as “not an event of great significance”.
“The reality was that in its [area of operations] the squadron was running out of things to do,” he writes.
In all they exchanged fire with the Iraqis up to 24 times over the next 42 days, going on to capture Iraqi regime members escaping Baghdad, clear a cement factory, and call in airstrikes on a radio tower. They would receive a citation for gallantry.
However, Palazzo makes the point that whether the Australians wanted it or not they were being drawn into the US goal of regime change, rendering Howard’s insistence that Australia was only participating in the disarming of the regime academic. A post-war briefing “illustrated the extent to which Australian objectives had become aligned with those of the United States despite government claims to the contrary”.