Report answers questions on Iraq
Did the British trick the Dutch after the invasion? Questions answered about the Iraq-report.
Willibrord Davids was the chairman of the special committee of inquiry charged with the investigation of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He is also a master of understatement. When he presented his report to prime-minister Jan Peter Balkenende on Tuesday, he dryly pointed out that the “sturdy tome” he bore had only one thing in common with a liber amicorum or festschrift, a gift commonly presented to friends in academic circles singing praises of its recepient: the element of surprise.
Little did Balkenende know then that Davids’ committee had lambasted him for showing “little or no” leadership in the run-up to the invasion.
The report answers several questions that have burned on many a politician’s lips for years. Below, four of the foremost.
How was the Netherlands treated by its allies?
The US and UK wanted the Dutch to support the invasion. In the end, the Netherlands supported it politically, but not militarily. The British ‘helped’ prime minister Balkenende in establishing a legal pretext for the war. In March 2003 the UK provided the Dutch with a summary of a report written by prime minister Tony Blair’s foremost legal advisor, which Balkenende used as a basis for constructing his own case justifying the invasion.
When the full version of the report became public in 2005, it turned out to have been far more ambiguous than believed. The Dutch government had only been made privy to the “brief, and, in some respects, very dissimilar” summary, Davids concluded.
The Americans tried to push the Dutch into supporting the war militarily. On November 15, 2002, the US asked the Netherlands for assistance in preparing an invasion force. The Dutch government was less than frank with parliament about this request, says Davids’ report.
Within the cabinet’s own ranks, the American request was met with misunderstanding. The ministers of foreign affairs and defence both interpreted it differently, and some ministers were not sufficiently informed about the matter.
Was the legal argument made by the former Balkenende government in justifying the invasion correct?
No, is the committee’s unequivocal answer. The statement strikes at the core of the government’s justification for the war. At the time, the Balkenende government claimed that the refusal of Saddam Hussein to comply with earlier UN-resolutions offered sufficient grounds for military intervention. International law dictates that military action requires a resolution justifying the use of force, but the government claimed in this case it did not.
Davids refuted this line of reasoning. According to his committee, there was no mandate under international law justifying the invasion.
Legal specialists at the ministries of foreign affairs and defence reached similar conclusions in memos prepared for cabinet. Successive governments ignored this advice. The government even went as far as to make international legal considerations dependent on policy established in August 2002 by the ministry of foreign affairs, which was mostly supportive of the UK and US military efforts.
The main tenets of this policy were set in a meeting that took less than an hour between then foreign affairs minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who would later go on to become the secretary general of NATO. The meeting led his ministry to send a letter to parliament without the knowledge of the Defence minister or prime minster. As the foreign affairs ministry slowly gathered more information, it only acknowledged facts supportive of established policy. The cabinet “did itself little good by basing its policy on an interpretation of international law which was was untenable,” the report said.
How did the cabinet come to its decision supporting the invasion?
Poorly, according to Davids. Balkenende has always claimed Dutch intelligence services made their own analysis of the threat Iraq posed. They did indeed, but their access to relevant information was “extremely limited” according to the Davids report.
Even so, Dutch intelligence agencies proved more reluctant in the picture they painted of the threat posed by Iraq than the cabinet was in presenting its case to parliament. Bluntly put: cautious words by intelligence agencies fell on deaf government ears. Cabinet ministers were mainly led by British and American intelligence which would later prove to be false. Ministers cherry-picked data from intelligence reports that supported established policy.
Was the Netherlands perhaps militarily involved in the invasion after all?
The committee has found no evidence of such. The surprising presence of lieutenant-colonel Jan Blom at a press conference held by the American army in Qatar was a result of miscommunication, the committee found. The frigate HMS Van Nes was only present in the region to escort ships building the invasion force, and the HMS Walrus submarine was not involved in the build-up to the war at all, despite what others have claimed, the committee concluded.
The committee did not consult the sources several Dutch media have cited as proof of possible small- scale Dutch military operations. Davids said his committee was unable to establish whether this evidence had been “gathered legally”. Only a full blown parliamentary inquiry might be able to shed some definitive light on this matter, but it is doubtful such an inquiry will ever take place, since a majority in parliament does not support it.