Van Bommel: Sooner or later there'll be an enquiry into Iraq

4 April 2007

Van Bommel: Sooner or later there'll be an enquiry into Iraq

An enquiry into the Netherlands' political and military support for the attack on Iraq will happen - sooner or later. So said SP foreign affairs spokesman Harry van Bommel during today's debate on the position of the Netherlands in relation to the disastrous war.

Harry van BommelSince the American military came to the conclusion, in April 2003, that they could find no weapons of mass destruction, debate over what prompted the war and the Netherlands' support for it has been fierce. Today a new parliamentary debate on the subject was held, and we have certainly not heard the last of the matter.

During the debate, Harry van Bommel confronted Premier Balkenende with the fact that former general Hans Couzy has recently added his voice to those demanding an enquiry, as have former Prime Minister Dries Van Agt and numerous other officials and military personnel who had been involved in the war and are anxious to have their version of events heard.

This is, at the very least, the second time that Parliament has seen itself pressed to demand that the government react to serious revelations. In the summer of 2004, influential financial and business daily NRC Handelsblad published a two-page analysis of the issue. Now, the government finds itself forced to try to wriggle out of assertions in the press, the latest having been made during recent reports on the TV show Reporter and the radio programme Argos.

Demanding complete openness, Van Bommel asked whether the government would be prepared to send Parliament the documents which ministers had claimed had been quoted selectively by Reporter. This would give members the chance to judge matters for themselves. The answer from the cabinet was, however, a predictable 'no'.

Two questions lie at the heart of the debate. Was the US government already preparing for war, and had they already decide to go to war, long before the decision was made public? And was then the only thing which remained to be done the establishment of a casus belli?

This was, in the first instance, the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The Iraqi WMDs were the point around which support for the war was organised; this was certainly true, also, in the Netherlands. The government went along with the war in multifarious ways and a consistent fashion. Just after the war began, they pointed to the numerous UN resolutions which Iraq had failed to follow. Yet many countries repeatedly ignore UN resolutions without incurring any punitive measures whatsoever, let alone having war declared against them.

In short, WMDs are supposed to have provoked war and certainly provided the crucial point fuelling hostility to Iraq in both the US and the Netherlands. The need for openness is and remains of vital importance, Van Bommel asserted. Echoing former Prime Minister and Christian Democrat leader Van Agt, he called on the governing parties to change course before they completely lost their way.

The government's reply was that 'Parliament's concerns have always been fully answered.' But this answer merely raises new questions, because what does the government mean by 'fully answered'? Nothing has been said about matters explicitly referred to in Van Bommel's question: Operation Walrus in the Arabian Sea, spied on by Iran, for example, or the F16s which left Kirgizia to fly over Iraq, or the commandos who joined the Danes at Kurdish airports. Were these secret missions, part of a secret policy such as that written in August 2000 by Defence Minister De Grave? The question remains: were military personnel brought into play in Iraq (in the period 2002 - 03)? If so, whose soldiers were involved, and when did they go in?

Van Bommel is left wondering why the government, if the radio programme Argos was indeed broadcasting false information, haven't taken its editors to court. If the Vice-Premier can go to court because pictures of members of his family have appeared in the press, why let allegedly libellous information pass?

It is time for openness over Iraq. Now.

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