11 februari 2010

Dutch Iraq inquiry - a slap on the wrist for the government

For nearly six years successive Dutch governments led by prime minister Balkenende refused to hold an independent inquiry into the political support of the Netherlands for the 2003 war with Iraq. Due to coalition considerations there never was a majority in the Lower House of Parliament to start an inquest on this subject. However in the spring of last year a slow but constant trickle of leaks and disclosures in the media put Mr Balkenende under increasing pressure. In the Senate, a body not bound by coalition agreements and that can hold its own inquiries, there grew a majority for some sort of investigation into the matter. So Mr. Balkenende decided to regain the initiative by asking the former president of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands, Mr. Davids to form a committee to investigate the decision-making concerning Dutch policy on Iraq in the period from summer 2002 to summer 2003. Mr. Davids was allowed to choose the other committee members himself. The result was a highly respectable committee in which the top level of Dutch historians, experts on international law and diplomats was represented. There were several opponents of the Iraq war but also more hawkish elements in the committee.

In January of this year the Davids committee presented its very thorough report. The main conclusion was that the military action of the US and the UK against Iraq "had no sound mandate under international law." The famous US Security Council Resolution 1441 "cannot reasonably be interpreted (as the government did) as authorising individual Member States to use military force to compel Iraq to comply with the Security Council’s resolutions without authorisation from the Security Council". The committee added to this that as it was inevitable that the US/British action would result in regime change – a policy the Dutch government had explicitly rejected – the political support of Mr. Balkenende and his team for the war was "to some extent disingenuous." One of the true reasons for the Dutch position were "the largely unspoken Atlantic solidarity considerations."

This harsh judgment on the government can only be seen as a robust slap on the wrist of the active politicians for a policy that is considered highly irresponsible and destabilizing by parts of the Dutch elite. There was great consternation in government circles. As yet there is still not a definitive official reaction but a leaked concept suggests that Mr. Balkenende will have to eat humble-pie. The government reaction will say that its position of 2003 "has found insufficient support with the international community and is no longer accepted by other countries." The government now accepts that "for such an action a more adequate mandate under international law would have been necessary."

The commission also goes extensively into the role of the Dutch intelligence services the AIVD (comparable with MI5 but with a department for foreign intelligence) and the military MIVD. The conclusion is that both services were highly dependant for their information position from their US/UK counterparts and the reports from the UN weapons inspectors. Nevertheless they were much more reserved in their opinions than the governments ministers were in parliament. Particularly the MIVD, who had a certain independent capacity for analysing the data about the supposed Iraqi WMD – due to their long time contacts with weapon inspectors – was more critical. The head of the MIVD, the general of the marines Van Reijn, stated at the time that Iraq "was not capable to effectively attack its neighbour countries." In the ministerial committee for intelligence he said that in his opinion "American data about Iraq for public consumption are highly politicised". He told Mr. Davids that the ministers were not at all happy with this kind of remarks. So the MIVD scepticism – for instance about the claim that Iraq could hit targets with WMD within 45 minutes – was not shared with the parliamentarians by the responsible ministers. It disappeared after Van Reijn retired in January 2003. Ironically his successor Dedden had earlier been head of the Dutch liaison team with CENTCOM, the US military command for the Middle East in Tampa. About the presentation of Colin Powell in the Security Council the MIVD not longer had any doubts.

The Davids committee is handicapped in its work here by the refusal of British and US services to make the intelligence reports on Iraq that were distributed to the Dutch available. They cannot see how the Dutch services handled the data of the CIA and MI6, they only see the final results.

Finally the committee has made an interesting discovery about intelligence activities in the prime ministers office, the ministry of general affairs. The substitute secretary- general here is also coordinator of intelligence. The committee has established that this official received intelligence reports on Iraq from foreign services and used the data for his reports to the prime minister without consulting the AIVD and the MIVD. The most famous examples were the so-called "eyes-only reports" from Tony Blair to Balkenende in a crucial period on 25 September 2002, but it happened regularly. The reports had to be returned after using them, so again the Davids committee does not know the content. In intelligence jargon this is called "stove-piping". The deputy head of the AIVD called this procedure "outrageous". The AIVD saw it as a "rupture in the relations". The Davids commission concludes that these actions of the coordinator are not consistent with his lawful brief. He must coordinate the services, not deploy his own intelligence activities.

Kees Kalkman, VD AMOK

English pages website Davids Committee

This article is published on the website of Statewatch

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