Dutch inquiry into Iraq war - a distant prospect
If it is up to the new Dutch cabinet, there will be no inquiry into the decision-making process about the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Netherlands may not have contributed troops but politically it supported the war in Iraq.
While still in opposition the Labour Party repeatedly argued the importance of an inquiry, but during the negotiations which made it part of the new coalition government, it dropped this demand. Now Labour senators have renewed the demand for an inquiry.
The leader of the parliamentary Labour Party, Jacques Tichelaar, says he is tied by the coalition agreement. This is why the party supported the cabinet's refusal to hold an inquiry into the war in Iraq. But, he adds, what holds for the Lower House does not necessarily hold for the Upper House, the Senate.
Labour senator Erik Jurgens is in favour of an inquiry. He believes it's up to the Labour members of the Senate to ensure an inquiry takes place:
"If the government continue to refuse, it will begin to look as if there is something they don't want us to know."
There are other opposition parties in the Senate that favour an inquiry. It will depend on the outcome of the imminent elections for the Provincial Council whether they represent a majority in the Upper House. It is the Provincial Council which is responsible for choosing the members of the Senate.
If there is no inquiry into the decision-making process, the question of why the Netherlands supported the invasion will remain unanswered. As will the question of what information the cabinet based its decision on in 2003.
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende of the Christian Democrats and Christian Union leader André Rouvoet both oppose an inquiry. They argue that the invasion was justified since Saddam Hussein refused to comply with UN resolutions.
The Labour Party has been calling for an inquiry for years, and the issue was even addressed during the coalition negotiations earlier this year. However, Labour leader Wouter Bos did not succeed in getting his way, and later referred to this as a serious defeat for his party.
Wangled into war
As a consolation prize, the coalition agreement does contain a passage requiring that Dutch support for any future foreign mission be backed by a UN resolution. The opposition Socialist Party is considering the idea of having an inquiry conducted by the National Institute for War Documentation (NIOD). In his weblog SP leader Jan Marijnissen writes: "We must ensure we are not wangled into a war again".
One interesting topic for an inquiry is whether during the decision-making period, Prime Minister Balkenende and his cabinet were aware of a British government memo dating from June 2002. This states that the US administration was already determined to invade Iraq and that the grounds for this would be found "in weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. The evidence for these was faked." The existence and contents of this memo, which can be found on the website of The Times, have never been denied by the British government.
For now, the new Dutch cabinet's expressed desire for a quieter political scene over the next few years looks unlikely to be met.
By Hans Andringa in The Hague
Published with the permission of
[Copyright Radio Netherlands Worldwide 2007]