Former Prime Minister Paul Keating has called for John Howard to “hang his head in shame” over his involvement in the Iraq War, which he says brought “the spectre of terrorism and racial strife” to Australia.
Mr Keating, a Labor Prime Minister who served for two terms and was succeeded by Mr Howard in 1996, said Mr Howard should “atone for his actions and those of his government” after a UK government report found the 2003 invasion of Iraq was based on flawed intelligence.
The Chilcot report, released on Wednesday, found the flawed intelligence should have been challenged but wasn’t, and the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”, which were never found, was presented to the public with “a certainty that was not justified”.
Despite these findings, Mr Howard joined his former British counterpart Tony Blair in defending his role in sending Australian troops to war along with British and American soldiers.
“I defend that decision. I don’t retreat from it. I don’t believe that, on the basis of the information that was available to me, it was the wrong decision. I really don’t,” Mr Howard said in a news conference in Sydney on Thursday.
Mr Howard said it was clear the Saddam Hussein regime wanted to resume its “WMD” program, while Tony Blair said he would invade Iraq again if he was put into the same situation.
On Thursday evening, Mr Keating gave a scathing assessment of Mr Howard’s justification, saying it was a “stubborn and unctuous denial” that should be “held in contempt by every thinking Australian”.
“Could you imagine the woebetidings of Howard and the Liberal Party, had it been [Bob] Hawke or I who had committed Australia to such an un-mandated assault on another country?” Mr Keating said in a statement.
“We would never have heard the end of it. The Liberals would have been wringing their hands for decades.
“The incompetent management of Iraq following the invasion, fractured that country and with it, Syria and the region around it, casting millions adrift from their lives and homes. A sea of refugees. Yet Howard has no shame of it. And no responsibility.
“Howard has visited on Australia the whole spectre of terrorism, through his craven and ill-judged support of the United States and its invasion.”
Mr Keating said Australia was “perhaps the most successful multicultural society in the world”, with the settlement of a large Muslim population, but “John Howard put the torch to that”.
“Now we live perpetually with the spectre of terrorism and racial strife, visited upon us by his prejudices and lack of judgment,” he said.
“In the face of the Chilcot Report, John Howard should atone for his actions and those of his government. He should, at least, hang his head in shame.”