Skip to comments.Australia chooses war
Posted on 03/18/2003 8:48:06 AM PST by WaveThatFlag
Australia was a divided nation last night as its troops prepared to join a United States-led invasion of Iraq and Federal Parliament descended into a bitter debate over waging war without specific United Nations backing.
The Prime Minister came under heavy flak for committing the country to war after the US President, George Bush, gave Saddam Hussein and his sons until tomorrow to leave Iraq or face attack.
John Howard said the coalition of US, British and Australian troops did not need further UN approval to launch the invasion.
"The Government strongly believes that the decision it's taken is right, it is legal, it is directed towards the protection of the Australian national interest and I ask the Australian community to support it."
But the Opposition Leader, Simon Crean, said Australia had joined an "immoral minority" of just three countries waging war with Iraq.
"The Prime Minister today, in a reckless and unnecessary act, has committed Australia to war," Mr Crean said. "We saw capitulation and subservience to a phone call from the United States President. This is a black day for Australia and it's a black day for international co-operation."
Mr Bush's deadline for Saddam's exile - which the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri, said earlier was not an option - means war could begin as early as midday tomorrow Sydney time, the pre-dawn hours in Iraq.
According to an American soldier, there were cheers from the Australian quarters in Qatar when the news came through, but this could not be confirmed by either the Australian troops or their spokesman.
In an address to the US, translated and broadcast in Iraq, Mr Bush told the Iraqi people: "The tyrant will soon be gone. The day of your liberation is near." He called on the Iraqi military to turn against Saddam and allow US forces to enter their country.
Mr Bush warned that any Iraqi officers who used chemical or biological weapons or burnt oil wells would be charged with war crimes.
An allied force of about 300,000, including 2000 Australians, is ready for action. Attack plans call for "swarm" tactics: simultaneous, lightning-quick operations by air, land and sea to overwhelm Iraq's military forces. At most, 48 hours of precision bombing would pound key targets before American troops storm across the Iraqi border.
The US has been placed on a heightened terrorist alert, following intelligence warnings that al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups could launch retaliatory strikes.
Mr Howard said the Government had not received any information suggesting a greater terrorist risk to Australia, but the Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, said security had been upgraded at defence facilities and some foreign installations "as a matter of prudence".
Mr Bush used his address to justify the US's first pre-emptive war. The war against terrorism meant the doctrine of self-defence was no longer valid, he said.
He said "appeasement could bring destruction of a kind never before seen on this Earth". Responding to terrorists only after they have struck "is not self-defence. It is suicide."
With the leaders of France and Russia already questioning the legitimacy of a pre-emptive war, Mr Bush and Mr Howard claimed previous UN resolutions to disarm Iraq forcibly gave them the authority.
"This is not a question of authority," Mr Bush said. "It is a question of will."
That view prompted the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, to warn: "If the action is to take place without the support of the council, its legitimacy will be questioned and the support for it will be diminished."
Mr Annan ordered all 136 UN weapons inspectors and humanitarian staff to fly out of Baghdad yesterday.
In Canberra, the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, ordered Iraq's five remaining diplomats to leave Australia by Sunday.
Mr Howard, who is is seeking television airtime for an address to the nation at 7.30pm tomorrow, put a resolution to Parliament supporting cabinet's decision to join the war. He said using force to disarm Iraq "is necessary for the long-term security of the world and is, therefore, manifestly in Australia's national interest".
The alliance with the US was "unapologetically a factor" in his decision and the "crucial, long-term value" of the alliance should always be considered in national security decisions.
However, Mr Crean attacked this statement, arguing that the alliance agreement explicitly directed Australia and the US to take military action only with the authorisation of the UN Security Council.
Australia had become an aggressor in war for the first time in its history only because the US had asked it to, Mr Crean said.
Mr Howard acknowledged that most Australians did not support the war but entreated them to take out their anger at him and the Government, not the troops.
The leader of the Democrats, Andrew Bartlett, said: "They should take it out on John Howard, his cabinet and his gutless bunch of backbenchers that are following him and following George Bush."
The Greens leader, Bob Brown, said: "The blood of Australians, if and when it is spilt, is on this Prime Minister's shoulders."