Australian Prime Minister's Pinocchio syndrome/Ronald Reagan disease aired in international circles Print E-mail

Saturday April 15, 2006
Also at:  April 18, 2006 Tuesday Rabi-ul-Awwal 19, 1427

Howard’s ignorance

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THERE was no more steadfast ally of George Bush and Tony Blair in the invasion of Iraq than John Howard, the prime minister of Australia.

Mr Blair, in particular, was full of praise for his “strength and leadership” and his willingness to “get stuck in”. Just a month before the war began, the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, informed Mr Howard that Britain was “in exactly the same position as the Australian government in respect to Iraq”.

Not quite, we hope. Mr Howard has now become the first Australian prime minister in 23 years to be called to account before a judicial commission after it emerged that a company exporting wheat to Iraq under the UN’s oil-for-food programme had been paying huge kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s regime right up to the start of the invasion. It is by no means inconceivable that some of this money paid for weapons that were then used to fight Australian troops.

The company, AWB (formerly known as the Australian Wheat Board), has exclusive marketing rights for bulk wheat exports from Australia. It was Iraq’s largest single supplier under the oil-for-food programme and also, it now emerges, Saddam’s largest supplier of bribes ­ to the tune of £125m.

Although a series of 21 diplomatic cables dating back almost three years before the war had warned the Australian government that AWB was suspected of paying bribes, Mr Howard denies that he received or read any of them.