12 January 2010 – 10:02am
Did Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende misinform parliament about the Iraq war? That is the unspoken question hovering over the Davids Committee inquiry whose report was published on Tuesday. The independent committee was asked by the PM to investigate the political process which resulted in the Netherlands’ joining George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing”. …
The Netherlands lent explicit “political support” to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003, while rejecting any form of military involvement. Mr Balkenende, who was caretaker prime minister at the time, argued that Saddam Hussein had consistently flouted UN resolutions and possessed weapons of mass destruction. The prime minister later said he had based his decision to join the war on a letter by his British counterpart Tony Blair, “for his eyes only”. Mr Blair‘s letter apparently convinced Mr Balkenende that Saddam Hussein was able to hit Europe with weapons of mass destruction at short notice.
The Davids committee was not allowed to publish the contents of the letter in its report.
No UN mandate
The committee confirmed that there was no UN mandate for the attack, putting the decision to join at odds with international law. But it is hard to say whether other – for example military – considerations outweighed the lack of international support, Mr Davids said. Clearly, Dutch loyalty to the Atlantic alliance was paramount, according to the investigator.
Parliament objected to the invasion plans, pointing out that an attack on Iraq was not covered by a UN mandate, but the government went ahead and joined the coalition. Rumours about military involvement by Dutch special forces in the war persisted, however. They were fuelled initially by the appearance of colonel Jan Blom at a press conference by US General Tommy Franks, three days into the war. Colonel Blom was a Dutch liaison officer with US Central Command. …
For a long time it remained unclear to what extent the Dutch government based its decision to go to war solely on information provided by its allies. Leaked documents suggested that Dutch intelligence services supplied the cabinet with more information which partially contradicted or cast a different light on data supplied by the US and the UK. The lower house was not informed by the cabinet about this more nuanced information. The AIVD and MIVD intelligence services had little or no information about Saddam’s armoury, the Davids report says.
Classified government documents published by the Dutch press last month revealed that officials of the Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs had warned the government of the day that the legal justification for the invasion was very slim indeed. This view was shared by many international law experts.
Cabinet at risk
Tuesday’s presentation of the findings of the Davids Committee, tasked with investigating how the Dutch government of the day arrived at its decision to support the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, could determine the future of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. And the future of his government, too. His major coalition partner, Labour, was opposed to the Iraq war, but suspended its objections on condition that Dutch involvement would be limited to non-military assistance.
So far, there have been 15 debates on the issue but Mr Balkenende managed to block every attempt to hold an official enquiry. Until early in 2009, that is, when he had to give in and asked retired president Willibrord Davids of the Supreme Court to head an independent committee.
It is now up to parliament to decide whether the PM misled parliament, and whether the 350-page report will be followed up by a formal parliamentary inquiry.
Iraq invasion violated international law, Dutch inquiry finds: here.
Britain: ALASTAIR Campbell yesterday defended ‘every single word’ of the notorious ‘sexed up’ dodgy dossier of September 2002, that was used by a desperate Blair government to try and gain support for attacking Iraq: here. And here.