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"Don't mention the war": the Howard Government's policy prescription for post-war Iraq: address to Department of Political Science and International Relations,\nUniversity of Queensland: 17 November 2003.\n

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“Don’t Mention the War”

The Howard Government’s Policy Prescription for post-war Iraq

Kevin Rudd, MP

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs

Address to the Department of Political Science and International Relations

University of Queensland

17 November 2003

What do John Howard and John Cleese have in common?

Few would suggest a common sense of humour.

Even fewer would suggest a righteous taste for Monty Pythonesque humour of the absurd.

But what John Howard and John Cleese do have in common is an abiding attachment to a politico-military doctrine otherwise known as “don’t mention the war”.

In John Howard’s case, the war in question is, of course, the war in Iraq.


John Howard spent the better part of 12-months winding the Australian community up for a war in Iraq.

But in the six months since President Bush declared the end of major hostilities on 1 May, we have heard barely a peep from our Prime Minister on post-war Iraq unless, of course, pressed.

John Howard has told us all that when it comes to Iraq he has simply “moved on”.

Tell that to the hundreds of Australian soldiers and airmen still in Baghdad and the hundreds of Australian soldiers still in the Persian Gulf.

Tell that to the Australian diplomats who cannot attend regular meetings in Baghdad in the absence of body armour and armed personnel carriers to escort them.

Tell that also to the Australian aid workers working for Care International and other international NGOs engaged in the difficult work of delivering humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people - now that all international staff from the United Nations have pulled out.

Because the reality for all these Australians - our defence personnel, our diplomats and our aid workers - is that the Iraq war hasn’t “moved on” at all.

Far from the war “moving on”, for them the war is a real and present danger.

For these Australians as of today find themselves in the middle of a war zone.

And the reason they are there is because John Howard has put them there.

They have very little choice in the matter.

They are simply doing their professional duty. They are doing it well. And they are doing it with great courage and this country should be proud of them.

So for John Howard to say that he has “moved on” from all of this is unspeakably arrogant.

It might make for good politics for John Howard to try and politically distance himself from the unfolding reality of post-war Iraq.

But it makes very bad national security policy.


It makes for very bad foreign policy.

And it makes for a very bad reflection of this country’s international obligations under international humanitarian law.

And apart from all that, it is simply un-Australian.

Security Conditions in Iraq

The current security situation in Baghdad and central Iraq is deteriorating.

In June this year, one month after the end of major hostilities, there were some 40 attacks on Coalition troops in Iraq.

By October, that number had risen to more than 400 - and the figure continues to rise.

At present, there are up to 30 separate security-related incidents each day in Iraq.

It is not geographically consistent.

By and large, in the Kurdish parts of the country in the north, there is relative calm.

In the Shia areas in the south, there had been relative calm - until the recent homicide bombing against the Italian police base at Nasariyah.

But in the so-called Sunni Triangle (perhaps better described as the Sunni Centre), the security situation is parlous.

In this area, and in other parts of the country, the commander of CENTCOM, General Abizaid, has calculated that there are now up to 5000 resistance fighters of one category or another.

These are not all Baathists.

The remaining Baathists have been joined by an influx of Jihadis from adjourning Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran.

Despite the extensive nature of the American occupation, Iraq’s borders with all three remain highly porous.

The combined length of Iraq’s borders with its neighbouring states is greater than the overall length of the American-Mexican border - a border which the


government of the United States has had great difficulty policing domestically for some decades.

The possibility therefore of simply closing Iraq’s borders or effectively garrisoning them along their length does not exist.

Even passage along the regular border crossing points cannot effectively be impeded, as would-be Jihadists don’t need to bring weapons in with them. Iraq is already awash with weapons and explosives of every category.

The real danger is that there is some evidence of emerging patterns of cooperation between both Baathists and Jihadists.

There is also some evidence of an emerging, albeit rudimentary, national command structure - although it appears that both Jihadists and Baathists are largely operating within local cells.

US officials have been quoted in the American media1 as describing the major guerrilla groups currently active in Iraq as follows:

• The Return Party: Considered the most significant insurgent group in Iraq, although officials could not put a figure to its size. It is composed primarily of members of Saddam's Baath Party and maintains the party's pre-war structure, with regional and local organizations.

Its name refers to the return of Saddam to power, which is the group's goal. The group is strongest in Baghdad as well as in central and western Iraq, in the provinces of Salahaddin and Anbar. It is also thought to be distributing materials aimed at frightening Iraqis away from cooperating with American forces.

One U.S. defence official said members of this group may be working with Islamic extremists.

• Muhammad's Army: This group, also seeking to return Saddam to power, consists of at least several hundred former members of Iraq's intelligence and security services.

Members are thought to be primarily targeting Iraqis who are working with American and other occupation forces. A group with this name is one of several that claimed responsibility for the Aug. 19 bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

The group is strongest in Baghdad, Mosul and Fallujah. How closely it is working with the Return Party is unclear.

1 This following section is quoted from John Lumpkin, Associated Press 13 November 2003


• Saddam's Fedayeen: Elements of the Fedayeen, one of Saddam's prewar irregular militias, continue to operate separately from other insurgents, U.S. officials say.

Most of the Iraqi forces supporting Saddam's return are from the country's Sunni minority but are thought to be motivated by politics rather than religion.

U.S. officials also have identified several groups they label as extremist:

• Muntada al-Wilaya: A Shiite extremist group operating in Baghdad and southern Iraq. It wants to eject American forces and set up an Islamic state like Iran's. American officials have suspicions that this group is linked to the Qods Force, an Iranian special forces unit that reports to the religious government in Tehran, and to Lebanese Hezbollah.

• Ansar al-Islam: A Sunni group, composed primarily of ethnic Kurds from Iraq's north, that U.S. officials say has ties to the al-Qaida terror network. Members may be acting as local fixers for foreign al-Qaida members entering Iraq.

• Abu Musab Zarqawi: A man, not a group, with al-Qaida ties. This Jordanian is thought to be working with Ansar al-Islam but also leads his own network in Iraq.

Various U.S. officials have also spoken generally of "foreign fighters" as a threat. While some may be operating under al-Qaida's umbrella, many are thought to be lone actors or small groups inspired to wage jihad, or religiously motivated war, against U.S. forces.

In addition, the U.S. defense official have said members of more than two dozen non-governmental organizations operating in Iraq are suspected of supplying logistical and intelligence assistance to anti-U.S. fighters.

Certainly my own observations and discussions on the ground in Baghdad tend to confirm that the security situation in the centre of the country is grim.

Baghdad is a garrisoned city with armed vehicles located on or near most major intersections.

On the single night that I spent in Baghdad, there appears to have been a major firefight within a few kilometres of the Australian military base to the north west of the city.


And the CPA headquarters itself in the principal presidential palace in central Baghdad has also come under attack.

Resolving the security situation, or at least reducing the security threat, has now become fundamental to the rest of the political and economic reconstruction task in Iraq.

In the absence of security, any discussion about meaningful political transformation, and the methods and timetables by which that might be achieved, tends to become academic.

In the absence of security, economic reconstruction is impeded given the risk of sabotage to infrastructure once it has been rebuilt.

In the absence of security, humanitarian assistance is also impeded as reflected by the withdrawal of UN international staff on 6 November from Baghdad to Cyprus.

Policy Responses

In this context, it is disturbing to discover that the Howard Government has only now admitted that it had little by way of any effective plan for the political and economic stabilisation of post-war Iraq - at the time the Howard Government decided to take Australia into this war in the first place.

Defence Minister Hill’s speech in New York on 14 November is, in effect, a long and detailed mea culpa about how much the Howard Government had underestimated the extent of the current insurgency.

Of course, what that is also code language for is that the Howard Government had no meaningful input into Washington’s and London’s deliberations prior to the war on how to manage Iraq after the war.

There has already been much criticism in the United States from all sides of politics about the Administration’s lack of preparation for the so-called “Phase Four” of the Iraq operation.

And since the war, we have effectively seen three fundamental shifts in US policy on how post-war Iraq should be governed:

• General Garner’s administration in May/June and its emphasis on early US withdrawal and the early transfer of authority to an Afghanistan-style interim Iraqi administration;


• Phase One of Ambassador Bremer’s administration from July to November which reversed this policy and developed instead a seven-point plan for the eventual election of a permanent Iraqi government over the next couple of years, but the retention of the United States as an Occupying Power until that time; and now

• Phase Two of Ambassador Bremer’s administration starting last weekend which now seeks to have an interim Iraqi government established by the middle of next year, at which point the US will cease to be an Occupying Power under international law. Although it would remain in the country at the request of an interim Iraqi government, presumably until the eventual election of a permanent Iraqi government.

Six months into the post-war period, we still have absolutely no idea what attitude the Howard Government had or has to each of the permutations and combinations of the political transformation process for Iraq.

Regrettably, on these matters the Howard Government has been a policy-free zone.

Unforgivably, the Howard Government has been a policy free-zone in these matters in the light of its impending responsibilities prior to the war as a fully fledged Occupying Power subsequent to the war.

All Senator Hill has told us six months later is that “sorry, we really didn’t think these things through!”

Alternative Policy Reponses

Labor’s policy framework for post-war Iraq was released on 13 April 2003 - more than two weeks prior to the end of formal hostilities in Iraq.

On 13 April, I issued a statement that clearly defined Australia’s responsibilities as an Occupying Power under the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

In that statement, I noted on behalf of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party:

The Geneva Convention confirms that as one of the three combatant states in Iraq, Australia is now one of the three "Occupying Powers" in Iraq.

Australia's status as an Occupying Power has been confirmed by the UN Secretary General, the British Government and even Prime Minister Howard (albeit with great reluctance).


The Geneva Convention outlines what precise responsibilities Occupying Powers have towards the civilian population of the country they are "occupying". These responsibilities include:

• The maintenance of law and order; • The provision of health and hospital services to the local people; and • The operation of basic infrastructure, such as electricity, water and roads.

Australia's responsibilities are therefore clear-cut.

On 17 April, John Howard, in response to Opposition and media pressure, conceded publicly that Australia “has the obligations of an Occupying Power”.

As I noted in a recent address to the United Nations Association, to allay any doubt on this score, Alexander Downer stated in a press conference in Baghdad on 23 May that collectively with the United States and the United Kingdom, Australia has an obligation as an Occupying Power in Iraq.

Having publicly confirmed Australia’s status as an Occupying Power in Iraq, Australia at that point conjointly became responsible for the physical security of the 24.5 million Iraqi civilian population as well as for the provision of food, water, health, shelter and other basic services (including electricity) for the same 24.5 million people.

A tall order one might have thought. One might also have wondered well whether this was entirely thought through by the Howard Government prior to its decision to take Australia to war in the first place.

One begins to think not, because in recent months, the Howard Government, through Ministers Downer and Hill in particular, have begun to back-flip on the fundamental question of Australia’s Occupying Power status.

Alexander Downer challenged the proposition in response to a Question on Notice from myself on 26 June 2003 when he stated:

“In United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1483 of 22 May 2003, only the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are named as Occupying Powers. Accordingly, these States have specific and special responsibilities and obligations under UNSCR 1483, the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Regulations. Australia is not named as an Occupying Power and thus does not bear the full burden of meeting these obligations.”


Foreign Minister Downer’s response was followed up in the Australian Senate by Defence Minister Hill who on multiple occasions in response to questions from Senator Faulkner stated that Australia’s status as an Occupying Power was questionable.

Specifically, Defence Minister Hill stated: “The issue of whether Australia is an occupying power is open for debate… on the issue of `occupying power', … UN Security Council resolution 1483 names only the US and UK as occupying powers in Iraq.”

Downer’s and Hill’s most recent defence of the Government’s position is particularly artful. It is based on their reading of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483 which was passed after the Iraq war and which sought to regularise the relationship between the Occupying Powers (by then institutionalised as the CPA - the Coalition Provisional Authority) and the United Nations through the appointment of an Iraqi Special Envoy. The latter position was subsequently and tragically occupied for a brief time by Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Leaving aside the delightful irony of the Howard Government relying on the UN Security Council resolution to try and define its way out of its obligations as an Occupying Power under international law (given their general dismissiveness of the UN and all its works), the Government’s core argument is that because UNSC 1483 does not specifically name or list Australia as an Occupying Power, wacko, we’re off the hook, and thus all the downstream nastiness in Iraq is no longer our joint responsibility.

This is all just too cute by half.

First, it is the tests laid out in the Hague and Geneva Conventions that define Occupying Power status - as a matter of evidentiary fact (an evidentiary fact accepted at the time by both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister); and something that cannot simply be neatly defined away by subsequent UN Security Council resolutions.

Second, UNSCR 1483 does not state that the US and the UK are the only Occupying Powers - a fact conveniently ignored by Ministers Downer and Hill in their most recent public remarks on this matter.

Third, UNSCR 1483 explicitly recognises the US and the UK as Occupying Powers in Iraq in the context of the US/UK letter of 8 May 2003 to the UN Security Council President. And if we read that letter, it states that the Coalition Provisional Authority (that is the administrative vehicle of occupation) was created by “the US, the UK and Coalition Partners acting under the existing command and control arrangements through the


Commander of Coalition Forces”.

The “Coalition Partners” by definition includes Australia. Otherwise the Prime Minister has been attending some very odd parades around the country in the last three months as he has welcomed home Australian troops from their participation with other coalition forces in Iraq war. In other words, UNSCR 1483 states that its meaning is to be interpreted by the US/UK letter to the UNSC President of 8 May 2003. That letter makes an explicit reference to non-US/non-UK coalition partners as part of the political vehicle of occupation - namely the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Fourth, Australia today is a full participant in the CPA six months after what has been described as the formal cessation of major hostilities. There are a number of Australian staff working in the Coalition Provisional Authority. There is also a senior Australian representative on the CPA Review Board.

So how can the Howard Government six months later turn around and argue that we are not an Occupying Power in Iraq when, under both the law and the facts, we are into this occupation up to our eyeballs?

Although these remarks of mine are drawn extensively from my recent addresses to the United Nations Association of Australia and elsewhere, it is important to reiterate the fundamental principles that underpin the Opposition’s critique of the Government’s approach to the discharge of its current responsibilities in Iraq.

For the Opposition, these responsibilities are not an optional extra from which we can pick and choose.

It is a set of responsibilities mandated by international law, and a direct consequence of our decision to be party to the military occupation of Iraq in the first place.

The Government’s strategy at best is to pick and choose, and at worst, to cut and run.

Political Transformation

On the critical question of political transformation in Iraq, the Federal Opposition, again since April, has canvassed the possibility of the early appointment of an interim Iraqi administration.

Back in April, we canvassed the possibility of this being done through the agency of an international conference on Iraq - specifically convened by the United Nations for that purpose.


This was the device used in 2001 at the Bonn Conference convened by German Foreign Minister which led to the early appointment of the interim Afghan administration of Hamed Karzai.

In Afghanistan, this interim administration has spent the ensuing period developing a process and timetable for the approval of a constitution and the election of a permanent government of Afghanistan.

Despite the deterioration in the security environment in Afghanistan, particularly beyond Kabul, this process of political transformation in Afghanistan still appears to be relatively on track.

Whether or not this model is capable now of being neatly applied to Iraq remains to be seen.

The critical question which now presents itself is the means by which an interim Iraqi government is to be established.

If an international conference under the UN is not possible to bring together the various groups that make up the fractious Iraqi polity, then other devices will need to be now rapidly developed.

Proposals currently being advanced in Baghdad by a combination of the CPA and the Iraqi Governing Council include the appointment and/or election of local level delegates to an expanded Council of several hundred members.

It is further proposed that this council may now develop a Basic Law which would broadly govern the operations of an interim government.

Just as it is now proposed that an expanded Council would then proceed to appoint or elect the actual interim Iraqi government itself.

Whatever mechanism is agreed between the CPA and the IGC, consideration should also be given to regularising the domestic and international legal legitimacy of these arrangements by further reference to the UN Security Council.

Under those circumstances, it would be important for France, Russia and Germany in particular to demonstrate goodwill in ensuring speedy passage of any such resolution through the Security Council.

The timetable which has been proposed for the election/appointment of an expanded Council and the determination of a Basic Law, and the election of an actual interim government is ambitious: June 2004.


But there are many advantages in supporting this approach, given the range of security and political dilemmas which currently confront the new Iraq.

To stabilise Iraq’s domestic security at present would require greater and greater reliance on the newly formed Iraqi Security Services - made up of the police, the Civil Defence Force and the New Iraqi Army.

The legitimacy and effectiveness of their operations is also likely to be enhanced by an earlier transfer of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government from the Coalition Provisional Authority. At that point, the Iraqi Security Services are more likely to be seen as instruments of the new Iraqi state - rather than as instruments of the United States.

This certainly was the view put to me explicitly by Acting President Talibani of the Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad on 14 November.

For Australia and the other Occupying Powers, there is a further advantage in this as well: namely the cessation of Australia’s formal obligations as an Occupying Power under international law once an interim Iraqi government is established.

This also is a point which the Federal Opposition has been advancing since the beginning of the post-war period - although regrettably a point on which the Federal Government has remained silent.

Recommendations for the Howard Government

Following my recent visit to Baghdad, I have also advanced to the Government a further set of specific proposals for their consideration for the period ahead.

I have outlined these in correspondence with the Australian Government today. These proposals include:

1. Initiating an immediate review of protective security arrangements for all Australian staff currently in Iraq. The advice I received in Baghdad was that the security situation in and around Baghdad continues to deteriorate with the number of attacks on Coalition forces increasing daily. Whereas in June there were some 40 attacks recorded, by October this monthly figure had risen to more than 400. The recent car bombing in southern Iraq which killed 18 Italian police provides a further basis of concern for those Australians in country. For this reason, over and above the normal, rolling security assessments which I am sure are being undertaken by DFAT and DOD, I would recommend a further overarching assessment of the protective security


arrangements for the Australian presence. This I believe also becomes particularly important given the new, accelerated timetable for the transfer of political sovereignty which appears to have been agreed to between the CPA and the Iraqi Governing Council - and the possibility that this accelerated timetable may of itself generate additional paramilitary activity within the country.

2. That the Government considers deploying an appropriate number of trainers for capacity enhancement of the New Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police Force. The advice I received in Iraq was that greater Iraqi participation in on-the-ground security operations may assist in stabilizing the security environment over time. The practical challenge that this creates lies in the quantity and intensity of the development and training of both the police and the army. I understand DOD currently has staff in-country assisting with the development of the army. It would be useful for the Government to investigate whether this training capacity could be increased. In my discussions with Ambassador Bremer, it appears a parallel need may exist for capacity building with the Iraqi police. It would be useful therefore for the Government to give consideration to providing an appropriate number of trainers in this area as well. Any additional trainers (both police and military, civilian and non-civilian) should be met within the existing parameters of the current overall numbers of personnel on deployment in Iraq at this time. This should not be met through any increase in the overall size of the Australian security presence - given resource constraints elsewhere, but importantly because of the difficult security circumstances which continue to prevail. Any addition to police and/or military trainers could therefore be addressed by a process of substitution for existing personnel and consistent with the pattern of normal staff rotation. It is the Opposition’s view that providing this type of indirect security assistance to Iraq may well be better over time than other direct forms of security assistance by Australia.

3. The Government should give consideration to requesting the CPA to appoint a Coordinator General for Public Works responsible for public sector employment generation. Care International advised me in Baghdad that youth unemployment currently runs at about 60%, thereby representing a large-scale, direct challenge to the social and economic stabilization of Iraq as well as broader security. It strikes me that with such a large pool of unemployed male youths, there is a critical problem presenting itself in terms of terrorist and/or resistance forces being able to recruit from this growing number of unemployed youths - particularly if educational and employment opportunities do not present themselves in the immediate future. If there is a weakness in the US-dominated CPA in this respect it is that the Americans may not readily grasp the significance of employment as a substantial


component of national security policy. A large amount of money will soon be expended in Iraq by the CPA on infrastructure development. I believe that consideration should be given to doing this in a manner which generates maximum employment opportunities rather than simply waiting for some spontaneous combustion of an Iraqi private sector. By then, the security consequences of a growing unemployment problem will be even greater. A Coordinator General of Public Works operating within the CPA would, I believe, provide proper institutional focus for both the employment and the infrastructure implications arising from the economic reconstruction effort.

4. The Government should give consideration to the early deployment of expertise from the Australian Electoral Commission in helping devise an appropriate Iraqi electoral system. I understand some work may have already commenced on this. But given the stated timetable of members of the Iraqi Governing Council that elections for a permanent Iraqi government should occur by 2005, and that electoral rolls based on a proper census would have to be constructed prior to that, plainly the preparatory work will need to start now. In the initial stages, some of this work could well be done by way of capacity building by training people in Australia. In the absence of the Canadians being active in Iraq at present (Canada being the only other country with a substantial, standing national electoral commission apart from the AEC), it may well be that the AEC is uniquely placed to assist in this important work. Given the ambitious timetable for political transition which has now been developed, the professionalism with which this work is discharged may well soon become vital for Iraq’s future political stability.

5. I would also draw the Government’s particular attention to the impending transfer of responsibility to the CPA from the UN from 21 November of the Oil For Food Program. As the Government knows, this program has been responsible for providing food for the bulk of the Iraqi population during the sanctions period. The UN in New York has already expressed concerns to me about the smoothness of the administrative handover of the program in late November - and whether the program will be subject to any disruption as a consequence of the handover, and any policy changes that the CPA may then institute. It is therefore imperative that the Government satisfy itself that this transfer occurs without impediment to the food and medical needs of the Iraqi civilian population who have depended on the program for survival for the last eight years.

These five proposals are by no means exhaustive. Because of the withdrawal of all international staff attached to UN agencies in Baghdad, I was unable to develop a first-hand understanding of what is happening as far as the



immediate humanitarian assistance task currently being handled across Iraq. Care International advised me that their anecdotal evidence is that schools in various parts of Iraq are reporting some evidence of malnutrition. I’ve been

unable to confirm this, but as one of the Occupying Powers in Iraq, I am sure the Government would wish independently to satisfy itself on this score given your obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention to provide for the physical sustenance of the Iraqi civilian population.


John Howard may well prefer to “move on” as far as the Iraq war is concerned.

But the reality is that he cannot.

Mr Howard’s reference to “moving on” is also inappropriate given his injunctions to the other Occupying Powers (the US and the UK) to “stay the course”.

In other words, John Howard’s principles on this matter are at best selectively applicable: Australia will not carry the can for what happens in post-war Iraq while quite happily allowing the United Kingdom and the United States to do precisely that.

The time has come for Mr Howard and Mr Downer to desist from engaging purely in the domestic politics of the Iraq debate.

Instead, the time has come for the Government to produce for the first time a definitive policy statement outlining its policies on what sort of Iraq should now emerge from the ashes of the war - and specifically what role Australia should play in the evolution of post-war Iraq.