John Howard. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Former prime minister John Howard has hotly rejected the claim that he led Australia into the 2003 Iraq war on the basis of a lie.
Mr Howard said the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the allied invasion was ''unexpected'' and that some of the key assessments of Western intelligence agencies proved wrong.
But he told the Lowy Institute in Sydney, in a speech marking the 10th anniversary of the conflict, that this was a ''world away from those [intelligence] assessments being the product of deceit and/or political manipulation.'' Mr Howard said the belief that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD's was ''near universal'' at the time.
He said the bloody conflict between Sunni and Shiites which broke out in Iraq after the war ''did more damage in my judgment to the credibility of the coalition operation … than the failure to find stockpiles of WMDs''. The circumstances of the time, he said, ''necessitated a 100 per cent ally, not a 70 or 80 per cent one''.