Dutch premier bows to Iraqi invasion probe pressure
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende agrees to an independent probe on the invasion in Iraq.
THE HAGUE—The Netherlands on Monday offered to set up an independent probe into the circumstances surrounding its political backing for the United States-led invasion of Iraq six years ago.
After initial hesitation, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende bowed to rising pressure from politicians and the public for an investigation following recent claims that crucial data had been withheld from the then-government, which he also led.
"The cabinet proposes an independent commission of enquiry... to investigate the decision-making between the summer of 2002 and that of 2003 regarding the Netherlands' political support for the Iraqi invasion," the prime minister said in a statement.
The probe would also consider "aspects of information provision," he said.
The proposed investigation, led by former Supreme Court president Willibrord Davids, has yet to be approved by parliament.
The NRC Handelsblad daily newspaper published claims last month that senior civil servants at the foreign affairs ministry had withheld critical legal advice from then minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who later became NATO secretary-general.
It said a memorandum from the ministry's legal department stated that the legal justification for Dutch support of the invasion showed "material and procedural shortcomings."
Balkenende reiterated Monday that the basis for the Dutch decision was Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's refusal to respect United Nations resolutions.
But he said the volume of parliamentary questions posed by MPs over the issue was time-consuming, especially since the economic crisis "demands all our time and attention."
An independent probe, he said, should answer all outstanding questions.
Last week, Britain's government was ordered to release minutes of crucial ministerial meetings from 2003 at which the controversial US-led invasion was discussed.