By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
BAGHDAD, June 2 -- On a day when a suicide bomber killed at least three Iraqi policemen, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd defended Monday his decision to end his country's combat role in Iraq and accused his predecessor of misusing weak intelligence to join the U.S.-led coalition that invaded Iraq in 2003.
"Of most concern to this government was the manner in which the decision to go to war was made: the abuse of intelligence information, a failure to disclose to the Australian people the qualified nature of that intelligence," Rudd told the Australian Parliament, according to the Associated Press.
Australia, one of the key members of the so-called coalition of the willing that took part in the invasion, on Sunday began redeploying its roughly 500 troops who remain in southern Iraq. A few hundred of the soldiers will stay in Iraq serving in noncombat roles, while others support the mission from other places in the Persian Gulf region.
Rudd was elected in November on a promise to voters that he would order the withdrawal of combat troops by mid-2008.
"We must learn from Australia's experience in the lead-up to going to war with Iraq and not repeat the same mistakes in the future," Rudd said. "This government does not believe that our alliance with the United States mandates automatic compliance with every element of the United States' foreign policy."
White House press secretary Dana Perino, while noting she had not read Rudd's comments, said the invasion was based on intelligence that the entire world had, the Associated Press reported. "We acted based on a threat that was presented to us," Perino said at the White House. "Since then, we have learned that there was not WMD in Iraq," she said, referring to weapons of mass destruction.
Former prime minister John Howard has consistently defended his decision to join in the invasion. He told the Sydney Morning Herald that he was "baffled" by Rudd's decision to withdraw the combat troops, saying he would have moved them instead into training roles.
Howard sent elite Special Air Service troops, airplanes and warships to the region as part of the pre-invasion buildup in early 2003. The SAS forces were part of the first wave of troops that swept into Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and are said to have engaged in the very first firefight with Iraqi troops.
Australian forces captured al-Asad Air Base west of Baghdad, securing more than 50 Iraqi aircraft hidden in camouflaged shelters. Coalition C-130 Hercules aircraft quickly began landing at the base.
Australian forces have remained in Iraq ever since and have not suffered a single hostile-fire fatality under Australian command (one Australian died when a British transport plane was shot down), according to the Australian newspaper the Age.
In world forums, Howard remained a strong ally and supporter of President Bush to the end of his term. In remarks aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. in September, during a visit by Bush, Howard emphasized "that our commitment to Iraq remains, that the commitment, the level and the basis on which they stay there in cooperation with other members of the coalition will not change under a government that I lead."
Also Monday, a suicide bomber killed at least three Iraqi policemen and wounded scores of civilians near Mosul, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.
The bomber targeted the policemen at approximately 7:15 p.m. in the Dawasa area, an Iraqi police official in Mosul said. The official said concrete barriers prevented the bomber from getting closer to a police station. A U.S. military spokesman said at least 35 Iraqi civilians were wounded by the explosion.
The police official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't allowed to speak to reporters, said at least two roadside bombs detonated in the city Monday. One killed a 44-year-old woman and the other injured two civilians.
Special correspondents Dlovan Brwari in Mosul and Dalya Hassan and Zaid Sabah in Baghdad contributed to this report.