A furious row has erupted between the Labour party and the prime minister about his dismissive reaction to yesterday’s highly critical report on the Netherlands’ role in the Iraq war.
Labour’s leader in parliament has called on Jan Peter Balkenende to make a new statement on the report while other MPs want an emergency debate later today.
In a statement late on Tuesday afternoon, the prime minister said several of the report’s most serious conclusions are ‘an opinion’ and that the cabinet had kept parliament properly informed about the decision-making process.
And the prime minister reiterated the government’s standpoint that it was up to Saddam Hussein to prove he did not have weapons of mass destruction, not the west to prove that he did. That was the legal basis for the invasion, Balkenende said.
The Netherlands gave political, but not military support to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Yesterday’s report by a a seven-strong panel of lawyers and other experts stated that the United Nations resolutions were not sufficient legal grounds for the invasion.
The report also criticised Balkenende for leaving the Dutch position up to the then foreign minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and said parliament had not been properly informed about contacts with the US. In addition, ”more nuanced’ intelligence information from the Dutch security services was downplayed, the report stated.
Last night Labour’s parliamentary leader Mariëtte Hamer said she did not believe deputy prime minister Wouter Bos agreed with Balkenende’s initial statement, despite the prime minister’s assurances he had been consulted.
Hamer said she is ‘surprised to say the least’ at the prime minister’s initial reaction. ‘We feel that he has confused his position with that of the current cabinet, not the then cabinet,’ she said. ‘I expect him to make a new statement.’
Labour was not part of the government during the war. The party had called for an independent inquiry into Dutch position on Iraq but dropped that when it became part of the new government in 2006.
Opposition Liberal party D66 has called for an emergency debate with the prime minister on Wednesday afternoon. And Femke Halsema, leader of the left wing green party GroenLinks accused Balkenende of arrogance.
Political commentators say the statement highlights a serious rift between the prime minister and the coalition Labour party. However, they says, the cabinet is unlikely to resign.
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