7.30 Report – Iraq War
Thursday 20 March 2003
KERRY O’BRIEN: Welcome to this special edition of the 7:30 Report on the day the US-led coalition forces opened fire on Baghdad — a very specific, opportunistic attack, to use the terminology, to try to eliminate Saddam Hussein and key associates.
And, with that the war that so much diplomatic energy had tried to stop, was under way.
Tonight we’ll take you to as many corners of the developing campaign as we possibly can.
US correspondent Jill Colgan shortly, on the hours leading to the attack.
The Australian’s Ian McPhedran, one of the few remaining reporters on the ground in Baghdad, will bring us his account.
Mark Bannerman will explain the way the high-tech air arsenal will do its deadly job over Iraq.
And, from Israel, Geoff Hutchison will look back at Gulf War I and assess Israel’s risky place in Gulf War II.
Importantly, our war panel of experts, three of the best military minds in this country, will map the path of this war.
With me in Sydney, former special forces commander Brigadier Jim Wallace.
Jim, were you surprised by this first response in this war, the first shot?
BRIGADIER JIM WALLACE (RET), FORMER SPECIAL FORCES COMMANDER: I think we were all surprised by it, but nonetheless I’m encouraged by it because to me it shows that the Americans are seeing the centre of gravity, that thing that if they get it, everything else will fall apart.
It’s not necessarily Baghdad, which might take lots of casualties, but Saddam Hussein’s inner circle themselves, and they can be got cheaply.
KERRY O’BRIEN: In Canberra, the nation’s leading independent strategic analyst, Hugh White.
Hugh, your immediate reaction when you got the news?
HUGH WHITE, AUSTRALIAN STRATEGIC POLICY INSTITUTE: Well, Kerry, I thought if they’ve got Saddam Hussein in the cross hairs it’s irresistible to go for him.
And if they have got him it’ll be a triumphant beginning to the campaign.
If they haven’t got him then I think it’s going to look like a little bit of a false start.
KERRY O’BRIEN: And alongside Hugh in Canberra, former air commander and recently retired air vice-marshall Peter Nicholson.
PETER NICHOLSON, FORMER AIR VICE-MARSHAL: One of the failings of the first Gulf War was the lack of human intelligence.
The fact that this strike was targeted specifically against members of the regime, the strategic leadership, as Jim says, the centre of gravity, indicates that that failing may have been largely corrected.
KERRY O’BRIEN: This panel’s perspective in full later.
But first, to Canberra, on the day Australia went to war.
You’ve just seen the PM’s Address to the Nation.
He sees it as a war to defend Australia from the interlocking future threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
Labor’s view: an unjust war, Australia’s first as the aggressor.
I’m joined first now by political editor Fran Kelly.
Fran, what was your sense, what do you think was the mood, the sense, the feel of the PM’s Address to the Nation?
FRAN KELLY: Well, the PM’s address was … tried to be reassuring.
He went through one by one the arguments that have been made against the Government’s case for war.
He tried to counter the legality, the morality, pitch in the humanitarian argument, and also on the grounds that … the big argument that seems to be concerning a lot of Australians, which is that being involved in this war will make Australia a bigger target.
John Howard went straight to that.
But one key new argument we heard here tonight, Kerry, the PM tried to relate this back to terrorism, because that’s how Australia relates to it, is that we need to be there alongside our allies, Britain and the US, because they are key in our fight against terrorism because of the intelligence sharing we have with them, which is priceless.
I think that’s the first time we’ve heard that from the PM.
KERRY O’BRIEN: The events of today were certainly outside the control of Simon Crean, but it seemed a rather hapless day, because of that, in the way it felt.
I don’t know if that was a portent of the difficulties he faces over the next few days as the war unfolds?
FRAN KELLY: Well he is having trouble.
Yes, it was bad timing.
He had given his Press Club speech, and just as he got to the last question, the news that the bombs had dropped came, so, in a sense, the argument had shifted, the ground had shifted immediately in the day.
But Simon Crean is having trouble laying punches, I think, in this debate.
He is anti-war.
So is a lot of the population.
It shouldn’t be that hard for him.
It’s hard to understand, for instance, why Labor and the Labor Leader didn’t ask John Howard every question in Question Time today on a day like this, put him under pressure about the issue of why Australia is acting as an aggressor with only four other military forces in this war.
But there was none of that.
It seems like Labor is just hesitating slightly.
Their big argument is the troops should be brought home, yet they support the troops.
Also I think the argument that the troops should be brought home right now when the war has started, when most people don’t expect it to be a particularly long war, is perhaps not going to be the most potent argument you could find.
KERRY O’BRIEN: And the mood of the parliamentarians?
FRAN KELLY: The mood of the Parliament was sombre.
But it was a very strange day today, Kerry.
You would think it would have been a day of great moment in the Parliament, a day when Australia goes to war against another country, and yet there was no big speech from the PM in the Parliament during Question Time today, and I sense the backbenchers didn’t like that much, they were disappointed.
The backbenchers themselves were sombre when they headed back to their electorates.
They were concerned about bombs dropping on Baghdad, though, of course, they still didn’t cross party lines.
KERRY O’BRIEN: OK, Fran, thanks for that.
CATHERINE KING, LABOR BACKBENCHER It certainly makes it far more real, even though it’s on television.
I think certainly today we’re all pretty shocked.
BRUCE BAIRD, LIBERAL BACKBENCHER: I think most people’s view is that the quicker the war is on and over, the better we’ll all be for it.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LABOR FRONTBENCHER:
What we have to remember is that this isn’t a video.
It’s not a movie.
What the lights in the sky represent is the death of Iraqi civilians, something for which I think Australia is taking part much to our shame.
IAN CAUSLEY, NATIONAL PARTY BACKBENCHER: I think I’ve seen it all before, and war is never a pretty sight, but unfortunately if you don’t rise up against despots, then they’ll take over you.
DAVID JULL, LIBERAL BACKBENCHER: I think Australia will be judged very well in history.
It’s one of the few countries that were prepared to stand up to this creature.
MARIA VAMVAKINOU, LABOR BACKBENCHER: I think our reputation has been tarnished.
It stands to be tarnished.
If the whole thing unravels in a nasty way, then there will be ramifications for us.
So no, it’s not a great day for Australia, not at all.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Very briefly, Fran, what does a PM and a Government do in a war?
FRAN KELLY: The PM stays put in Canberra, in the national capital.
His national security committee of Cabinet will meet here tomorrow in Canberra.
Beyond that, they’re playing it by ear.
But John Howard is by the phone and expecting some contact with Washington over the coming days.