Chilcot probe notwithstanding, Australia defends supporting Iraq War

Canberra: Following the publication of the British Chilcot report which questioned the motives behind the Iraq War of 2003, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Thursday defended her country's participation in the conflict. Stressing that the decision was taken based on available information, Bishop said: "The Australian government -- both Labour and Liberal -- and the Australian parliament would take responsibility," Efe news reported. The statement came following the publication of the report by John Chilcot -- a former Privy Counsellor and civil servant -- who was tasked to enquire into the circumstances surrounding the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.  The Chilcot probe found that the invasion of Iraq claiming the existence of mass-destruction weapons was carried out based on faulty intelligence and before having exhausted all peaceful options. When questioned if former Australian Prime Minister John Howard should apologise to the Australian citizens, Bishop noted that this was his personal decision, although she recalled that the country's involvement then was backed by the Labour party opposition. "I recall very well at the time Kevin Rudd urging us to continue to support the US. So it was a bipartisan position on Iraq," Bishop told local media. On March 18, 2003, former US President George W. Bush formally asked Howard for Australia to participate in a future military intervention in Iraq and Australia later contributed at least 2,000 soldiers. Australian Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, a former intelligence analyst, said Saddam Hussein then posed no imminent threat and asked that both Howard and the former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer should be held accountable for Australia's participation in the Iraq war. Wilkie, whose support could be decisive for the formation of an eventual minority government in Australia after the elections on Saturday, called for an open investigation in his country akin to the Chilcot report. "I will take it up with whoever is the next Prime Minister," Wilkie told media in Melbourne.  On Thursday, after the release of the Chilcot report, the New Zealand opposition said they were vindicated over their decision to refuse to join the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The main opposition Labour Party, which was in power under former Prime Minister Helen Clark in 2003, said it stood by its decision not to send troops to help overthrow Saddam Hussein, Xinhua news agency reported.