Dutch coalition parties clash over Iraq report findings

Dutch coalition parties clash over Iraq report findings

The Dutch government's three coalition partners met Wednesday amid a row over how Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende responded to the findings of a report about his government's support for the 2003 war in Iraq, DPA reported.

Balkenende (Christian Democrats) and deputy prime ministers Wouter Bos (Labour) and Andre Rouvoet (Christian Union) were meeting to discuss the demand by Labour faction leader Mariette Hamer for a new government reaction to the Davids Report.

In the report released Tuesday, the Davids Committee said there was insufficient legal basis for the war, that the government had failed to inform parliament properly and on some occasions even misled the legislature.

The Davids Committee - led by retired Supreme Court judge Willibrord Davids - also criticized Balkenende directly for "hardly" taking any leadership role at the start of the debate bout the war.

In his first reaction, Balkenende distanced himself from the report's findings and denied any wrongdoing, adding that he would reply shortly with an elaborate and written reaction.

The disagreement between Christian Democrats and Labour over the Iraq war goes back to 2003 when the then-coalition comprising Christian Democrats, Liberal VVD and the populist-rightist LPF decided to support the US.

The then-leading opposition party Labour opposed the decision. Over the years Labour repeatedly demanded a parliamentary inquiry into why The Hague chose to back to the US-led war in Iraq.

Labour is the only party in the coalition, which also includes Christian Democrats and Christian Union, to demand a new government statement.

Labour faction leader Hamer said late Tuesday that Balkenende's statement indicated he was representing his former rather than the present government's view.

The Netherlands was one of the few western European countries to support the war in Iraq. The decision sparked a political upheaval and a controversy that still lingers.

The Davids committee was appointed by Balkenende last February to investigate all circumstances that prompted The Hague to support the US-led invasion of Iraq.

It was the first independent inquiry into the country's involvement in the Iraq war and came years after the US and Britain launched similar enquiries.

The parliamentary foreign affairs committee is to debate the committee's findings on January 19.

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