Mixed feelings for general who led Australia in Iraq war

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 6:38pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 6:49pm

The general who led Australian troops in the Iraq conflict said Tuesday big mistakes were made by the United States in the post-Saddam Hussein era as he voiced mixed feelings about the war.

Peter Cosgrove was chief of the Australian Defence Force in 2003 when then-prime minister John Howard committed 2,000 Australian troops in support of the US-led invasion.

Launched with the stated goal of wiping out Saddam’s stores of weapons of mass destruction, the war aimed to enshrine a liberal democracy in the Middle East but instead unleashed sectarian violence and endless political disputes.

According to a new report by the Britain-based Iraq Body Count group on Sunday, at least 112,000 civilians have been killed since the invasion and in an interview with ABC radio, Cosgrove said it was a high price.

“Looking back you’d have mixed feelings about the whole episode and I suppose you’d cling to a few things -- a horrible dictator eventually was removed and the people of Iraq have a new chance, even though they’ve had enormous suffering,” he said.

“There’s been a lot of bloodshed along the way and that’s always horribly regrettable -- but all war is a mistake, all war.”

In hindsight, he said coalition forces made errors in failing to adequately plan for the post-Saddam era, particularly the policy to rid Iraq completely of the dictator’s legacy.

“20-20 hindsight shows that there were big mistakes made in the early part of the post-Saddam period, that is, when the man was still hiding out but after he’d left government,” he said.

“Yes, one might say the breaking up of the Ba’ath party, the breaking up of the Iraqi army, these did not... these were not in hindsight good decisions.”

No weapons of mass destruction were ever found but Cosgrove does not believe that the war was predicated on a lie.

“Well a lie is... that presupposes people deliberately contrived to invent a reason for war and that’s certainly not the Australian experience,” he said.

He said the Australian approach was that Saddam had used such weapons against Iranians and Kurdish Iraqis and the probability was that he retained some and they were “arguably available for global terrorists”.

“So that was, on probabilities, the reason why Australia joined the coalition and we’re still not persuaded that there was a lie involved in that,” he said.

“Maybe, as we saw after the event -- we didn’t find any WMDs so everybody was chagrined about that.”

Asked if the Iraq war had ultimately made the world a safer place, Cosgrove said “there was never going to be a sort of a line drawn under global terrorism as a result of Iraq”.