By Darryl Mason
When Australian special forces joined the American war to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait in late 1990, a t-shirt that simply said "Fuck Iraq" became as popular as Guns N' Roses merchandise in suburban Australia.
"Fuck Iraq" also became a fast way to strike down any pub conversation about the impending war. You didn't need to hold an opinion on Iraq War I (or The Gulf War), as it was more than acceptable at the time to mutter "Ahh, fuck Iraq" if you were asked what you thought about George HW Bush Vs Saddam Hussein.
"Fuck Iraq" meant "fuck the Iraqis", it also meant "fuck that place", "fuck Saddam" and "fuck if I give a shit."
No interest, no opinion either way, was no big deal back then.
But for Iraq War II (or more accurately The War On Iraq), you had to have an opinion. You were either for or against the war, and and all were for the Iraqi people.
You weren't allowed to say "fuck the Iraqis". That was far, far worse than saying "Fuck Bush" or "Fuck Howard."
For or against the War On Iraq, everybody seemed to argue that the people of Iraq were the first priority of concern...okay, maybe second priority behind your own armed forces. But close.
We were there to save the Iraqis this time. Not to fuck them.
This wasn't a war against the people of Iraq, we were repeatedly told, it was a war to disarm Saddam Hussein of his WMDs....then it was a war to find Saddam's WMDs....then it was a war to bring order to Baghdad after mass rioting and looting and the first wave of IED attacks...then it was a war to catch Saddam....or his sons....and then it was a war to see justice served up on Saddam's snapped neck...and then it was a war to escort democratic elections under armed guards to the people of Iraq....then it was a war to pacify Fallujah, again...then it was a war to train Iraqi forces....then it was a war to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq...then it was a war to save democracy in Iraq by supporting the newly elected and thoroughly Iran-allied government
...then it was a war to secure the kind of peace that would allow large-scale troop withdrawals
...then it was a war that couldn't be stopped because it would make the Coalition of the Willing (Few) look weak to jihadists across the planet....
But it was never a war against the people of Iraq. Unless they were insurgents, or heavily armed and objected to 4am raids and a kicked in front door. Which was a lot of Iraqis. Or if they had been unemployed for six months and took $50 to dig holes for IEDs along American supply lines.
It wasn't "Fuck Iraq" this time, it was "Save The Iraqis". Those not trying to kill CoW(F) soldiers anyway, even though it was almost impossible to determine who was who in the ghettos of Baghdad, Basra and Fallujah.
John Howard committed Australian troops to the War On Iraq within days of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington DC. As a witness to the attack on the Pentagon, Howard was right there in American capital during some of the most tumultuous days in American history. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were discussed before Howard left Washington DC and flew home.
The 'War On Terror', from its genesis, was never simply about finding and killing Osama Bin Laden and crushing Al Qaeda. It was always planned, and discussed, in the White House, in Downing Street, in Kirribilli House, as a war on terrorists and those who supported them, funded them, sheltered them. Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan were from day one viewed by the war's planners as future locations for combat or special operations to kill terrorists. Howard signed on.
John Howard allowed the Australian Defence Forces to start ramping up the numbers of Australian servicemen in the Gulf in mid-2002. Australia sent hundreds of soldiers and sailors to the Gulf in the last three months of 2002, many of whom knew that they were going there for a war, despite the evening news claiming Howard had still not made a decision.
For the three months before Australian and American rockets and missiles ploughed into Baghdad and other targets, in March 2003, Howard refused to confirm the common knowledge in Canberra, in news media editors offices, and shared amongst nearly every military family in the country, that he had told President Bush Australian troops were committed to fighting the War On Iraq, and that Australians were in the Gulf to fight the war.
Howard needed to lie about the fact that Australians and Americans were there to fight a war, regardless of what did or didn't happen in the United Nations Security Council, because so many Australians were opposed to it. When 1 in 20 Australians took to the streets of every major city in Australia to protest the coming War On Iraq, Howard and his supplicant media drones tried to vilify every single protester, including thousands of World War 2, Korea and Vietnam veterans, by claiming their opposition to the illegal use of military force was like giving comfort to Saddam Hussein. By March 2003, more than 70% of Australians were opposed to military action in Iraq.
Howard finally relented and confirmed Australian forces were committed to fighting the War On Iraq a few hours after the first missiles were fired. He then said Australians would be in Iraq "for months, not years" and then lied, or dodged, about the reasons for the war and why Australian soldiers could not come home for dozens of months more.
There's no doubt that Howard's refusal to listen to the will of the Australian people on Iraq played a factor in his humiliating defeat last November.
Howard knew by April-May 2007 that as far as the Australian Army was concerned, they'd done their duty in training up Iraqi police and security forces and keeping safe provinces in Southern Iraq. They were preparing to withdraw most of their combat forces, and start the long process of restocking and repairing and replacing gear, equipment, weapons and vehicles damaged or lost during the years of desert deployment. This decision was made months before Howard called the election. And he knew that. Howard couldn't force the Australian Army to stay in Iraq, and the decision had been made to withdraw.
So why didn't Howard come clean and tell the Australian people that if elected, he, like Rudd, would oversee the withdrawal of Australian combat troops from Iraq in mid-2008? And why did foreign minister Alexander Downer shout in Parliament that even thinking about "cutting and running" from Iraq was giving in to "the terrorists" when he already knew Australian troops were coming home?
Howard's bizarre refusal to confirm what the military, and military families in particular, along with various news media editors and thousands of public servants, already knew as a fact was a repeat of his scandalous behaviour at the start of the war.
His stubborness, his inability to come clean to the Australian people on the end of the Iraq War, as with its beginning, helped to lose him the election. It wasn't the only reason, but Howard's barely believable illusion-weaving throughout four years of war only encouraged Australians to wonder about his honesty when it came to other vital issues, like interest rates, like WorkChoices. Howard's hundreds of spin-filled, forced-empathy hollowed interviews about the Iraq War planted millions of seeds of doubt - we can't trust him on Iraq, so why should we trust him when he says we won't be worse off under IR changes?
The War On Iraq was not simply a heavy chain around Howard's neck, weighed down further by his man-love blushing over President Bush, it was a constant stream of bright sunlight, illuminating Howard's torturing of truth on numerous issues and exposing his inherent dishonesty.
History will record that Australia went to War On Iraq based on a concoction of outright lies, deception and selective use of downright dodgy intelligence, and all of it will indelibly stain Howard's place in the history books.
History will record that the Australian people's rejection of war in dealing with Iraq brought into the streets of our cities and towns the biggest mass-gatherings and protests ever seen.
History will also record that Australian special forces played a vital role in dissuading key Republican Guard majors and generals from backing Saddam Hussein, with suitcases full of cash, many weeks before the war officially began.
And history will record that Australian troops trained tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police personnel, helping to recruit former insurgents and militia men years before it became a policy of the American military to pay and train those who once tried to kill them.
And so we come to the official announcement that Australia's key military role in the War On Iraq has ended :
Houston confirms Australian troops would have pulled out of Iraq in 2008 even if John Howard won the election :
The chief of the Australian Defence Force has told a parliamentary committee it is time for Australian troops to leave Iraq.
The Federal Government has ordered Australian combat troops be withdrawn from Iraq by the middle of the year.
Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston says Iraqi forces have faced a number of challenges over the past 18 months and always come out on top without any major support from Australia.
"It's been a very pleasing outcome," he told a Senate estimates committee this morning.
"We have achieved our objectives in southern Iraq and frankly if you look at the two provinces, it's time to leave."
Air Chief Marshal Houston said Australia would still be engaged with Iraq through a broader program focused on training, including bringing members of the Iraqi forces to Australia.
"We will be providing training in Australia," he confirmed.
Air Chief Marshal Houston said both al-Muthanna and Dhi Qar provinces had been under Iraqi security control for almost two years.
"We have seen very pleasing results from the (Iraqi) security forces deployed in the two provinces," he said.
"They have had a number of security challenges over the months and they have come out on top without any support from us . . .
"When you look at the two provinces, it is time to leave."
Australia's withdrawal was likely to have happened even if the federal coalition had retained government at the last election, Air Chief Marshal Houston said
UPDATE : In an earlier ABC News report, the story claimed that "Australia sent troops into Iraq in March 2003 in support of the US push to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein."
Even the notorious House Of Evil Lefties, according to the nuts and Bolts, has finally brought the new myth, and reported it as fact, that Australia joined the War On Iraq to overthrow Saddam.
But only for a few hours. Commenters pointed out that this was a complete lie, and that Australia went to War On Iraq to stop Saddam from firing his alleged WMDs into England within 45 minutes, or giving non-existent nuclear weapons to Osama Bin Laden.
Here's the ABC News corrected version of why we went to War On Iraq :
"Australian troops have been in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003."No reason at all is given now.