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Australian case for Iraq war was 'fabricated'
By Kathy Marks in Sydney
23 August 2003
The Australian government "skewed, misrepresented, used selectively and
fabricated" the intelligence used to justify its decision to send troops
to Iraq, a parliamentary inquiry in Canberra was told yesterday.
The Australian inquiry opened yesterday and took evidence from Andrew
Wilkie, a former senior intelligence analyst who resigned in March in
protest at the case Australia made for going to war.
Australia contributed 2,000 special forces troops to the US-led
invasion. Mr Wilkie accused the government of lying about the threat posed
by Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. "Sometimes the exaggeration
was so great it was clear dishonesty," he said, and added that words and
phrases qualifying intelligence assessments, such as "probably", "could"
and "uncorroborated evidence suggests" were frequently dropped from
reports. "Words like 'massive' and 'mammoth' were included [instead]."
Mr Wilkie has become one of the chief critics of Australia's
involvement in the Iraq war since quitting his post in the Office of
National Assessments (ONA). Asked by the inquiry to describe the
government's handling of Australian intelligence on Iraq, he replied -
mirroring the phrase used by the BBC about the British intelligence
dossier - that it was "sexed up".
His claims were swiftly denied yesterday by the Prime Minister, John
Howard, who was one of the first leaders to sign up to the invasion of
Iraq. Mr Howard said his assessment of the threat posed by Saddam
Hussein's regime had been justified "at the time".
Asked about Mr Wilkie's allegation of exaggeration, Mr Howard replied:
"I deny that absolutely. I don't know on what he bases those claims. If he
has got evidence of that, let him produce it. Other-wise, stop slandering
decent people." Mr Howard added that the ONA had indicated that Mr Wilkie
had had "virtually no access" to the relevant intelligence on Iraq.
The Australian government has made a determined effort to discredit Mr
Wilkie. An opinion poll last month found that 36 per cent of Australians
believed that the government knowingly misled them over Iraq.
The ONA is an elite agency that advises the prime minister. Mr Wilkie
said: "I will go so far as to say ... the exaggeration was occurring in
there [Mr Howard's office]." He said the government had been "prepared to
deliberately exaggerate the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and
terrorism threat so as to stay in step" with the US.
The inquiry also heard evidence from the former UN chief weapons
inspector Richard Butler, who cast doubt on Australia's claim that Iraq
could have supplied terrorists with chemical or biological weapons.