Balkenende cleared by Iraq war probe

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende had little to do with initial planning of the Netherlands’ participation in the Iraq war, a 550-page report concluded on Tuesday (12 January).

At the beginning of last year, two national inquiries into the decisions that led the British and Dutch governments to support the US-led invasion of Iraq were opened in both countries (EURACTIV 16/02/09).

According to the special committee that released the independent report, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende was not involved in preparations for the war. “The prime minister took little or no lead in debates on the Iraq question. He left the matter of Iraq entirely to the minister of foreign affairs [who at the time was Jaap De Hoop Scheffer],” the report said.

“Only after January 2003 did the prime minister take a strong interest in this,” the committee continued. “However, by that time, the stance defined by the ministry of foreign affairs [at the end of 2002] was firmly established as government policy,” it added.

Thus, Balkenende had little to do with initial planning of the Netherlands’ participation in the Iraq war. However, as EURACTIV reported, the role played by European politicians in the days leading up to the outbreak of the conflict influenced the race for EU top jobs last autumn. As Portuguese prime minister, current European Commission President José Manuel Barroso organised a key pro-war meeting in the Azores on 16 March 2003, attended by George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Spain’s José Maria Aznar. The Iraq invasion began four days after the meeting on 20 March. (EURACTIV 15/09/09).

Jaap De Hoop Scheffer, Dutch foreign affairs minister from July 2002 to December 2003, was chosen as NATO secretary-general in 2004, a post in which he remained until 2009. For a while he was seen as a potential candidate for the job of the EU’s first High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, but was rejected for his pro-Iraq war positions (EURACTIV 28/01/09).

No legal backing

The Dutch government supported an invasion of Iraq that had no legal backing, the report stressed. The wording of UN resolution 1441 “cannot reasonably be interpreted as authorising individual member states to use military force to compel Iraq to comply with the Security Council’s resolutions [as the Dutch government did],” it said.

“The Dutch government lent its political support to a war whose purpose was not consistent with Dutch government policy,” the report stated. “It may therefore be said that the Dutch stance was to some extent disingenuous,” it continued.

“The committee found no evidence that the expression of political support for the US-British invasion of Iraq was motivated by Dutch commercial interests,” the report further stated.

It stipulated that even if “the Netherlands made an explicit distinction between political and military support […], this distinction was not always recognised by the US”.

Moreover, the Dutch government did not adequately inform parliament in 2002 and 2003 about its plans in the run-up to the conflict. “There was no substantial exchange of ideas between government and parliament with regard to the policy on Iraq,” the report said.

The Netherlands sent about 1,100 troops to Iraq in July 2003 to take part in a post-invasion, UN-mandated Iraqi stabilisation force. They left Iraq in 2005. 

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