AM Archive - Wednesday, 12 March , 2003 08:00:15
Reporter: Catherine McGrath
LINDA MOTTRAM: Unable, he says, to sit and watch in silence as Australia drifts towards war with Iraq, Andrew Wilkie, a senior Australian intelligence officer is this morning jobless at his own hand, after his resignation in protest against the Howard Government's position.
He says he hopes his public comments will help open debate on the proposed war, which, on the basis of his work at the Office of National Assessments, he says could end in a military or humanitarian disaster, pushing Saddam Hussein, he says, towards the terrorist groups which the world now so fears.
Mr Wilkie also asserts that war is not about the fight against those groups, but rather about US politics.
Andrew Wilkie's credentials put him firmly in the camp of the establishment. He was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Australian Army, a Duntroon graduate who spent nearly 20 years in the infantry, before moving to the Office of National Assessments as a civilian, and that underscores the broad community base from which war opposition continues to come.
So does he expect to be vilified for his stance, a question our Chief Political Correspondent, Catherine McGrath, put to Mr Wilkie in Canberra last night.
ANDREW WILKIE: ONA's statement to the media yesterday, I think has tried to play down my access to information on the Iraq issue, as I would have expected them to do, and I would expect that sort of management of the issue to continue from within Government.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: You believe this war is bad policy, why?
ANDREW WILKIE: In essence, Catherine, I think that invading Iraq at this time would be wrong. For a start, Iraq does not pose a security threat to any other country at this point in time. Its military is very weak, it's a fraction of the size of the military at the time of the invasion of Kuwait. Its weapons of mass destruction program is very disjointed and contained by the regime that's been in place since the last Gulf War. And there is no hard intelligence linking the Iraqi regime to al-Qaeda in any substantial or worrisome way.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: Now this gets to the key of the problem for the Government with you going public yesterday, because Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, has emphasised this week, but has emphasised for months and months, the link between terrorism and Iraq, his belief that weapons of mass destruction will pass from Iraq to terrorist groups if Saddam Hussein is not stopped. Now you're saying that is completely untrue?
ANDREW WILKIE: What I'm saying, Catherine, is that the Iraq problem is unrelated to the war on terror, it's more related to US-Iraq bilateral relations, US domestic politics, the issue of US credibility and so on. It's unrelated to the war on terror and yes, Iraq as rogue state should worry us as a potential source of weapons to terrorists, but there are other ways to manage that risk.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: So do you believe containment of Saddam Hussein is possible, rather than military action?
ANDREW WILKIE: Yes. I think there should be more time allowed for a, a better, more developed strategy of containment to see how it goes. I mean, it may well be that we have to go to war against Iraq eventually, but we should be exploring better inspections and so on, before we go to that last resort.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: In terms of weapons of mass destruction, do you believe that if war goes ahead, it's more likely those weapons will end up in the hands of terrorist groups?
ANDREW WILKIE: What worries me is that a war, an invasion, is the option that's most likely to prompt Saddam to do exactly what we're trying to prevent. A war is what is most likely to force him to act recklessly, to possibly use weapons of mass destruction himself and to possibly play a terrorism card.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: If war goes ahead, if next week Australia is at war as part of this military coalition led by the United States, how do you think at the moment things are going to play out?
ANDREW WILKIE: A war at this time is just not worth the risk. I think there is too great a risk of a military or humanitarian disaster and I think there's a real risk that a war now will further inflame popular anti-western opinion in the Middle East and push Saddam closer towards al-Qaeda, and push us all just that little bit closer to the so-called, clash of civilisations, that we've so far managed to stay well clear of.