In August 2002, when the Pentagon was busy reviewing its PowerPoint plan for the invasion of Iraq, Australia was already apparently in on the action.  This was before UN inspectors started searching Iraq for Weapons of Mass Destruction. In fact, the strategy meeting took place before US President George W Bush had even gone to the UN with his concerns about Iraq’s stockpile.  By then the US was clearly committed to the cause – but what about Australia? Look closely at Tab K, Slide 1 of the Pentagon’s PowerPoint presentation, dated 5 August 2002, and you can see an interesting inclusion in the “Force Disposition” in Jordan … SAS Task GRP (AUS).

The Australian SAS’s appearance on that chart raises the question: when did the Prime Minister actually commit Australian troops to Iraq?  After all, ten days after the slide appeared, on 15 August 2002, John Howard danced around the issue of military commitments:

STEVE LIEBMAN, TODAY SHOW: Have you received any information in the last few days to suggest that an invasion of Iraq is nearer?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I have not. The situation with Iraq is that no decision has been taken by the United States, obviously the American military plans for a lot of contingencies – everyone knows that, that’s no secret. But no decision has been taken and I’ve said repeatedly, and I’ll say it again this morning, that what I have done in relation to this issue is to take the Australian public into my confidence, to tell them that I think there is a strong possibility of American action. That if that occurs, then Australia could well be asked to participate. But neither has happened and it really is a little premature to be talking about an American strike because no decision has been taken. But it is important that as Prime Minister I let the Australian public know the situation as I understand it to be. But I can inform you that I haven’t been informed and I wouldn’t think it at all likely that some kind of American strike is imminent.

In March 2003, America’s contingency plan was enacted, including the Australian contribution: Cabinet committed troops to the war in Iraq.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey