Chilcot and the disastrous cost of an ill-advised war

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The Chilcot report released on 6 July provided a scathing assessment of the British government’s involvement in the Iraq War.

It has also generated discussion in Australia, with former prime minister John Howard defending his decision to send troops to Iraq. However, his comments were criticised by his prime ministerial predecessor Paul Keating.

“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,” Mr Keating said.

When the Howard government first signalled its intention to join the coalition forces in Iraq, the Uniting Church was one of many churches who voiced their concerns.

Back in 2002, members of Synod passed a proposal titled “No war with Iraq”, which called on the Australian government to “use its influence to dissuade the US government from the threat of principate military actions in Iraq” and to “refrain from all support of such threats”.

It also passed a motion for the Synod to investigate whether Uniting Church members might consider engaging in civil disobedience action by refusing to pay any proposed war tax.

When the Howard government announced it would send Australian troops to Iraq in 2003, the president of the Uniting Church at the time, Rev Prof James Haire, issued a statement expressing the Church’s opposition to the war.

“This war is wrong. It will not produce peace. It will lead to untold suffering for innocent people in and around Iraq,” Prof Haire said.

“I fear that this action will set off renewed Middle East tensions that could take another 30 years to resolve. One outcome will be increased terrorism against innocent people extending to Indonesia and South-East Asia. The road for religious reconciliation between moderate Christians and Muslims has become much, much harder.”

These predictions have largely come to pass. The war in Iraq has cast a long shadow in a highly volatile and unstable region and its effects reverberate around the globe today. Some experts believe the conflict in neighbouring Syria – which led to the largest refugee exodus in a generation – was exacerbated by the invasion of Iraq.

Many people have argued that Australia has a responsibility to accept more refugees from Iraq and the Middle East because of its involvement in the war. Australia’s current refugee intake of 13,750 is less than 1 per cent of the global need. This comes at a time when the number of displaced people throughout the world is at an all-time high.

Last year, the Abbott government promised a one-off intake of 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq, but only a fraction of those have been resettled in Australia. The Uniting Church has consistently stated that Australia can do more to support people displaced by conflict and persecution. Prior to the federal election, the Church called on the government to increase its humanitarian intake to at least 60,000 by 2020.

On this week’s Friday Forum: should Australia increase its refugee intake as a way to atone for its participation in the Iraq War? Are there other ways we can respond to the crisis in Iraq, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries?

Image by tcp via Flickr.

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