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Australia: Report Clears Government About Lying on War in Iraq - 2004-03-01

A parliamentary report in Australia has cleared the government of deliberately lying about the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Although the report criticizes intelligence agencies for their judgments about the threat posed by Iraq, it says the government was far more cautious about pre-war intelligence than the United States and Britain.

A powerful parliamentary committee made up of members from all political factions says the Australian government's handling of intelligence was "more moderate and more measured" than in the United States and Britain.

The report says Australia did not claim that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction could be deployed in 45 minutes, an allegation made by the British government.

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard says the report vindicates his decision to go to war, which was condemned by the main opposition party.

"The most powerful thing it said, Mr. Speaker, was it completely denied the 12-month claim of the Labor party that we went to war based on a lie. That is the most important thing that the committee has done," says Mr. Howard. "The committee found there was no interference in the work of the intelligence agencies."

The committee, however, identified a number of shortcomings by various intelligence agencies. Committee chairman David Jull says while Australian intelligence analysts were more cautious than their British and American partners, it is possible they over-stated the case for war.

The report demands a sweeping investigation into Australia's spy organizations. The prime minister says he will fully support a new, independent inquiry.

Australia was the third combat force in Iraq. Before sending troops, the government relied heavily on intelligence from Washington and London.

When the committee started its investigation last year, allegations were made about the way the Australian government justified its involvement in the Iraq conflict.

A former defense analyst, Andrew Wilkie, said the government had created a mythical Iraq where every factory was producing banned weapons. He resigned from the intelligence service last year, claiming there was not enough evidence to justify going to war.

This has been uncharted territory for parliamentary investigators in Canberra. It is the first time a committee has delved so deeply into the workings of Australia's five spy agencies, which are among the most secretive and powerful organizations in the country.