Parliament took some time out from the petrol debate yesterday — although, toward the end, even the Opposition chucked it in and began asking about something else. Question time was preceded by statements from Rudd and Nelson on the Iraq withdrawal.

Rudd commendably took the opportunity to get stuck into the previous Government over its participation in the attack on Iraq. This should never be glossed over or forgotten — the Coalition took a considered decision to commit Australian troops to an illegal, immoral and, as it has turned out, plain stupid attack on Iraq, and Simon Crean, who was Opposition Leader at the time, copped plenty for leading Labor in opposing it.

Five years and literally uncounted tens of thousands of Iraqi dead later, a Labor Government is withdrawing our troops and the best the Coalition can do is mumble about the job not being done.

Not that it’s entirely clear where the Opposition stands. Quite apart from John Howard, who must be easily confused these days if he is “baffled” by the withdrawal, Brendan Nelson has complained that, while he agrees with the decision, Kevin Rudd shouldn’t have made it when he did.

Defence spokesman Nick Minchin wants us to stay. Peter Dutton says he supports Howard’s “baffled” comments. Don Randall says the job isn’t finished. And Dennis Jensen is still trotting out the “staying the course” rhetoric we so enjoyed back in 2003.

Nelson spoke in reply to Rudd, again not using notes, which is a bit of a Nelson speciality, and quite impressive. I suspect a number of us up above in the gallery were hoping Emo Man would break out, but we only got a quick cameo while he was discussing the Kurds.

More impressively, however, Nelson did what only Dick Cheney has so far been willing to do — link the war on Iraq to September 11, talking at length about “the heinous events of 11 September 2001” and how it explained the need to remove Saddam Hussein (and can everyone in public life please look up how to pronounce “heinous”, because none of you ever do. If in doubt, watch the end of Kentucky Fried Movie for an excellent discussion of its pronunciation).

Don’t dismiss Nelson’s link out of hand. This is the bloke, after all, who as Defence Minister in the previous Government declared that Australia should stay in Iraq because of its oil.

Which, at the very least, gives the lie to the Government’s claims that the Coalition did nothing about oil prices during its time in office. On the contrary, it actually went to the trouble of joining in a war over oil. It’s just that it was a miserable failure.

The Americans have also jacked up about Rudd’s attack.

“We acted on the intelligence that we had,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “No one else in the world, no other government, had different information and so we acted based on what was the threat that was presented to us.”

Sadly, Ms Perino’s statements are undercut by one of her predecessors, Scott McClellan, whose What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception exposes the reliance on propaganda and deception that was at the centre of the Bush Administration’s determination to embark on what McClellan calls “an unnecessary war.”

What a pity senior figures from the Howard years don’t show some of McClellan’s honesty.