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Yet another ‘core’ promise
by John Richardson
Australia’s Donald Rumsfeld, Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Robert Hill, offered a pious rebuttal of Kim Beazley’s call last week for the withdrawal of Australian forces from Iraq (No Question Of Walking Away, Herald, January 12).
Next to the UK, Australia was the most vocal supporter for the illegal war of aggression mounted by the US against Iraq, with Howard, Hill and Downer at times seeking to outdo each other with their hyperbole in support of the draft-dodging George Bush’s middle-east military adventure (two days before Hill’s piece was published, Lord Downer unpacked another of his shrill performances by declaring that pulling out of Iraq would be 'catastrophic').
Of course, the US-lead war and occupation of Iraq have also come to symbolize the all-consuming evil ‘war on terror’; the sole platform upon which the Howard government rests. Howard’s early discovery and astute use of the fear meme has been central to his ‘leadership’ success and to maintaining his government’s electoral advantage for years.
But, as everyone, except politicians, seems to understand, the wheel of fortune has a bad habit of turning, often severing the necks of those who were imprudent enough to stick them out the furthest.
And the wheel of fortune is turning...
With ‘Bomber’ Beazley finally seeming to be ready to declare Labour’s own ‘phoney war’ with the government over, the benign picture of the situation in Iraq painted by Hill is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain, whilst the difficulty confronted by the ‘coalition of the willing’ in trying to work out how to extract itself from the disastrous mess is matched only by scale of the problems it has created.
As the toll of dead and injured US military personnel continues to mount (2,200 dead and 16,000 wounded), so too does the financial cost of George Bush’s criminal adventure: officially US$232 billion and rising rapidly, with latest estimates suggesting that the ultimate long-term cost to US taxpayers will likely run to US$2 trillion - The Cost of The War.
In the face of these horrific numbers; the deaths of more than 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians; the torture; the looting; the criminal lies and deceit, US public support for its ongoing involvement in Iraq has all but evaporated.
Of course, Bush has responded to this profound threat to his Presidency by, on the one hand, stubbornly insisting that the US ‘will stay the course’ in Iraq (hypocritically feigning a noble commitment to the country he has helped to all but destroy) whilst, on the other, preparing to wind-back the presence of US ground forces, whilst significantly increasing air operations - The New Iraq War Strategy.
As to the Bush administration’s boast that it would build a model of ‘freedom and democracy’ in Iraq, more than 80% of the US$18.2 billion originally allocated for Iraqi reconstruction has been expended. And the US administration has now decided that no further funds will be allocated, whilst blithely suggesting that future reconstruction will have to be funded by Iraq itself or through aid provided by other countries - US Has End in Sight on Iraq Rebuilding.
Fat chance Lois.
Prior to the Gulf War, Iraq produced 3.5 million barrels of oil per day, with oil sales of US$7 billion accounting for 60% of the country’s GDP and almost all its foreign exchange earnings.
During the 90’s, oil production declined markedly to around 2 million barrels a day, largely due to the inability of Hussein’s regime to maintain its oil field infrastructure in the face of the US inspired trade boycott.
Whilst Iraq’s GDP has risen significantly in recent years, oil production has actually declined even further to around 1.3 million barrels per day.
On top of its foreign debt of at least US$120 billion, Iraq still owes US$100 billion in compensation awarded against it after the 1st Gulf War, whilst a further claim from Iran of up to US$100 billion could yet emerge as a consequence of the Iraq / Iran War, dating back to the 1980’s.
Buried under debt, with any increase in oil revenues and foreign exchange earnings unlikely in the short to medium term, Iraq simply doesn’t have the capacity to fund its own reconstruction and will be condemned to the status of a 3rd world country, with its wealth misappropriated by its western liberators.
Iraq has 79 known oil wells, of which only 17 have ever been brought to production. It has the 3rd largest proven reserves in the world.
In the past few weeks, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister, the great thief and liar who provided the US with so much of the false ‘intelligence’ it used to justify its illegal invasion, Ahmed Chalabi, was appointed Oil Minister.
Chalabi’s primary task will be to oversee the misappropriation of the 62 oil fields not yet brought to production to British and US oil companies, thereby ensuring their further enrichment at the expense of Iraq’s 26 million people.
In 1944, at the height of the 2nd World War, the British and US airforces dropped an average of 2,500 tons of bombs per day on Germany. During the 43 day Gulf War, the US dropped an average of 3,250 tons of bombs per day on Iraq.
Consistent with its refusal to account for Iraqi casualties, the ‘coalition of the willing’ also refuses to confirm the bomb tonnage dropped on Iraq during the 2003 invasion or since, however, given that bombing targets were deliberately not restricted to military installations or forces, the brutal reality of the impact of the coalition’s ‘shock and awe’ campaign can only be imagined.
The reality is that Iraq’s infrastructure, with the exception of its precious, US-guarded oil fields, has been systematically destroyed over the past 15 years.
Under the circumstances, Senator Hill’s take on the reconstruction of Iraq are surreal:
To put paid to Hill’s claims, it is only necessary to refer to the 2004 study undertaken by the United Nations Development Program (titled "Iraq Living Conditions Survey 2004,"), which found that the people of Iraq enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the Middle East prior to 1991.
At that time, Iraq boasted a modern social infrastructure, with 1st class health-care and education systems; a modern sanitary infrastructure, with an extensive network of water purification and sewage treatment systems. In 1990, Iraq was ranked 50th out of 130 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index, which measures national achievements in health, education and per capita GDP.
In savage contrast, the UNDP study found that life in Iraq has decayed significantly since the 2003 invasion and occupation, with Iraq today ranked 127 on the Human Development Index, having experienced one of the most dramatic declines in human welfare in recent history.
Whilst Senator Hill might like us to think that life in Iraq today is all ‘peaches and cream’, the UNDP study reveals that Iraqi civilians, mostly children, have suffered from lack of health care and adequate nutrition, with 23% under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition, 12% suffer from general malnutrition and 8% suffer acute malnutrition.
The Iraqi minister of health claims that 100 percent of the hospitals in Iraq need rehabilitation, with current major problems including a lack of health personnel; a lack of medicines; non-functioning medical equipments and destroyed hospitals and health centres.
Add to these tragic facts the reality that only 54% of households have access to a ‘safe and stable’ supply of drinking water (only 20% in rural areas); whilst 98% of households are connected to the electrical grid, 78% experience severe ongoing disruptions to supply, such that 1/3 of households rely on generators, usually shared with neighbours and unemployment is running close to 70%.
Given the proclivity of the Howard government to claim criticisms of its Defence and Foreign policies are implicit criticisms of Australia’s Armed Forces, it is important to acknowledge the contribution being made by our 2,000 person team, even though it is miniscule against the size of the task and notwithstanding that it is only necessary because of the Howard government’s criminal deceit.
It would be equally unreasonable to focus criticism for Australia’s corrupt foreign policy solely on Senator Hill. The fact of the matter is that it is the entire Howard government that is guilty of making Australia a party to the ultimate war crime – a crime against peace.
Indeed, neither John Howard nor Alexander Downer have yet denied that their government deliberately involved Australia in the US-lead war of aggression, knowing, as the secret Downing Street Memo revealed, that its alleged justification for the war (that Iraq possessed WMDs) was a complete fabrication.
But Hill is the author of this piece and it is Hill who persists in mouthing the Howard government’s most craven lies to the Australian people:
The truth is that the Howard government wilfully and dishonestly engineered Australia’s shameful participation in an illegal war of aggression against another foreign state: a breach of International Law.
The truth is that the so-called “request” by the Iraqi government for Australia to remain in Iraq comes from the illegitimate puppet government installed by the coalition of the willing, after it had deposed the legal government by force of arms.
The truth is, as the US 911 Commission Report itself acknowledged, there were never any ‘connections’ between terrorist organizations and Saddam Hussein’s government. The obscene carnage and destruction wrought on Iraq, coupled with its ongoing military occupation, has spawned a savage insurrection by the Iraqi people.
Surely it is only in the feeble and corrupt minds of Bush, Blair, Howard and their acolytes that the notion that people struggling for their freedom under military occupation and oppression are ‘terrorists’?
The truth is that the US, Great Britain and Australia have waged an illegal war of aggression against Iraq and in the process have rendered the country almost uninhabitable. Contrary to Hill’s claim, our participation in this evil enterprise has only contributed to a loss of security for our country and its citizens.
Senator Hill has been in Parliament for 25 years and has been Minister for Defence for the past four years.
Whilst his tenure in the Defence portfolio has been relatively short, it has been very eventful and it is arguable that he has been somewhat accident prone.
Apart from having to juggle the consequences of the government’s disastrous foreign policy blunder over Iraq, Hill has had to deal with a good many other Defence scandals.
These include the institutionalised victimisation of defence force personnel; the politicisation and subsequent deterioration of Australia’s defence intelligence capability; significant mismanagement of defence procurement contracts, including the Collins submarine, Seasprite helicopter, the FFG frigates etc; repercussions from the ‘children overboard’ affair, significant defence performance issues, including equipment failure and substandard service arrangements; commercial theft and dishonesty and questionnable defence procurement practices.
In addition, Hill has persisted with the government’s refusal to publicly air details of seven year-old allegations of torture and murder made against members of the ADF in East Timor; nor to provide information on the progress of what must be one of the longest running investigations in Australian history - In Search Of Yani Ndun | Webdiary.
Persistent rumours have it that Hill is considering retiring from Parliament and will presently advise John Howard of his intentions in that regard. Whilst Hill’s ambitions beyond Parliament have not been publicly canvassed, he is doubtless very keen to protect his reputation.
Whatever the future holds for Hill, the Defence portfolio is almost certain to prove to be a poison chalice for his successor and not just because of the position that the government has painted itself into over Iraq.
The Howard government has managed to survive for 10 years due to its singular determination to lie and deceive wherever and whenever it proved necessary or expedient to protect its political interests but, like Senator Hill, it is fast reaching its use-by-date.
It is a sad irony that both the people of Iraq and Australia will have been significantly diminished in the process.