TANYA NOLAN: The Prime Minister Tony Abbott won’t rule out Australian military involvement in Iraq, but he may face a battle to win broad political support for any deployment.
The Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says the increased violence in Iraq is concerning, but he’s warning that any future use of troops must be in Australia’s national interest.
The Federal independent MP, Andrew Wilkie, who resigned from the intelligence services in the lead up to the 2003 Iraq war, is far more strident in his view.
He says Australian troops should “absolutely not” be sent back to Iraq and he says there’s still many unanswered questions about Australia’s role in the Iraq war 11 years ago.
From Canberra, Naomi Woodley reports.
NAOMI WOODLEY: The developing situation in Iraq dominated the Prime Minister’s media call with the US president, Barack Obama, and afterwards Tony Abbott wouldn’t rule out sending Australian troops, if requested to do so.
TONY ABBOTT: Let’s not underestimate the seriousness of what’s happening in Iraq at the moment. There is a rapidly deteriorating security situation. There appears to be a rapid advance by al Qaeda-type groups through large swathes of the country. This is a very serious situation.
The United States is considering what an appropriate response might be. They haven’t finalised their views on what the response should be and they haven’t requested assistance from us.
It’s really quite routine for us to be in discussions with the United States when situations like this arise. Let’s see what, if any help, they might request, but obviously any request for help would be taken very seriously by us.
NAOMI WOODLEY: The Opposition Leader Bill Shorten points out it is still a hypothetical, but he’s already sending the Government a signal that it can’t expected unqualified support, if troops are to be deployed.
BILL SHORTEN: Labor obviously is concerned of any increases in violence, communal violence or any other form of violence in Iraq. What we would also say though is that we need to be briefed by the Government.
We’re not a blank cheque and the test which Labor would apply on behalf of the Australian people is would sending troops to Iraq be in the Australian national interest? That’s the test that matters, and historically Labor didn’t support sending troops to search for the weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
NAOMI WOODLEY: The independent MP, Andrew Wilkie, resigned from the intelligence agency, the Office of National Assessments, over his concerns about Australia’s involvement in that search for WMD’s which were ultimately used as the justification for the 2003 war in Iraq.
ANDREW WILKIE: As odious as Saddam Hussein was, he or a strong leader and a strong government like he had, managed to keep a lid on that sectarian violence. Yes, the Sunni versus Shiite is an important part of the violence that we’re witnessing, you know, this very week, but effective governance could have kept that in check.
Iraq used to be a relatively secular society, but the vacuum of effective governance, the increase in militancy since 2003 has created the perfect environment for what’s happening now.
NAOMI WOODLEY: And so do you believe the West then has an obligation to again go back into Iraq to try and create that environment of good governance?
ANDREW WILKIE: Well, no I don’t, because unfortunately we can’t right the wrongs of the past. I mean this all starts 11 years ago with the decision to invade that place. Having invaded Iraq, we created the conditions that we now see and the only way ultimately that Iraq will find its own natural political level is for Westerners to be out.
If we go back in now, you know, we might prop it up for another 12 months and then we’ll leave and we’ll be back to where we are this week.
Certainly Australia should not go back. You know, we can’t right the wrongs of our involvement after 2003 until quite recently. No good will come from more bloodshed at our hands, no good will come from more Australians losing their lives.
NAOMI WOODLEY: Tony Abbott hasn’t ruled out contributing troops again if the United States requested that, although he’s pointed out it is quite early days. Does Australia have a choice in terms of its alliance partnership with the United States to say no if that request did come?
ANDREW WILKIE: We would have a stronger alliance relationship with the US if sometimes we did say no. Because we always say yes and it’s assumed we’ll always say yes, they take us for granted, but you look at countries like New Zealand or perhaps a better example is Canada, countries that sometimes do say no. They’re not taken for granted in Washington the way we are.
This would be a very good time for Australia to show some independence in our foreign and security policy and to make the point in Washington that we can’t be taken for granted.
NAOMI WOODLEY: Andrew Wilkie says the current violence should prompt a new inquiry into Australia’s involvement in Iraq 11 years ago, and the actions of the then prime minister John Howard, and his foreign minister, Alexander Downer.
ANDREW WILKIE: Remember this was all about weapons of mass destruction and terrorists. Even though it was quickly found that Iraq had no links with Al Qaeda and no effective WMD program, but what have we got now 11 years later? It has in fact become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is now a haven for terrorists and I lay the blame for that very much at the hands of the former prime minister and former foreign minister.
NAOMI WOODLEY: He says the two previous inquiries were too narrow, and a royal commission is needed to examine the political decisions made by the Howard government.
TANYA NOLAN: Naomi Woodley reporting.