* * * UPDATE 2: More details emerge (see diagram here):
The botched security operation happened on Wednesday afternoon, Baghdad time, when an Australian military convoy was conducting a reconnaissance mission of the route between the minister's office and the Australian embassy in Baghdad in preparation for a meeting with an Australian trade delegation...The fact that the Aussie Defence Force "deeply regrets" the incident is a pretty clear sign that they are accepting the blame. But this "explanation" is just too wierd for words:
According to a senior defence spokesman, Gus Gilmore, a convoy of Australian troops from the security detachment travelling in three light armoured vehicles were checking the route...
The security detachment was conducting precinct security duty in association with a regular visit to Baghdad by Australia's senior trade commissioner to Iraq, who is based in Amman. The senior trade commissioner was not with the unit at the time.
The forces are from Security Detachment 9, the unit to which Private Jake Kovco belonged before he died in a bizarre shooting incident in April...So there is a big cover-up going on about the accidental death of Private Kovco, whose body was lost en route home to Australia, and that is putting so much stress on our poor diggers in Iraq that they feel the need to let off steam by killing a few Iraqis. Is that the government argument?
An Australian military officer had warned on Monday that the forces at the Australian headquarters in Baghdad were under intense pressure because of the demands of the inquiry into Private Kovco's death.
The commanding officer of the soldiers who shot at the vehicle was tied up most of Monday in the Kovco inquiry giving evidence by video link from Baghdad along with three other members of the unit, including two of Kovco's room-mates.Sounds like that is the Aussies defence: temporary insanity due to the stress of involvement in a cover-up. Either that, or you can take the far too familiar official line:
"It would be wrong to speculate on the circumstances of the incident until that investigation is complete."As Paul McGeogh writes in the SMH today, Australian forces in Iraq are Headlong on the road to nowhere:
[D]espite the extraordinary language of Bush's praise for Howard, the US President's diplomatic staff must work hard to keep the smirk from their faces when the Australians call.
* * *
A delegation from the Australian Embassy was visiting the Iraqi Minister For Trade, Abdel Falah al-Sudani, in his Baghdad office. The Australian delegation had armed escorts, apparently from the Australian defence forces in Iraq. As they left the trade ministers office, the Aussies encountered some armed men dressed in plain clothes and shot one of them dead. Turns out these were actually al-Sudani's plain-clothes bodyguards.
Details are still sketchy at the moment, though Reuters footage showed "the Iraqi bodyguards' sports utility vehicle crashed into a pole, its windscreen peppered with bullet holes." That certainly does not sound like a minor incident.
Focus here must necessarily be on exactly WHO was taking part in the Australian trade delegation at the time, and why: was this visit connected to the ongoing AWB scandal? Were the Aussies trying to pressure the Iraqis into a new deal (it has been an off-again, on-again deal for months)? If so, did the Iraqis try to intimidate or attack the Aussies involved?
It's interesting that al-Sudani, a leading Shi'ite, is calling the dead man a "martyr" and calling for compensation to be paid to his family. He also wants "an explanation from the Australian government for this intentional and unwarranted criminal aggression".
Fair enough. A clear explantion is certainly needed (prepare for yet another Australian government cover-up). But al-Sudani surely has some questions of his own to answer as well. This certainly sounds like a major stuff-up: did the Iraqi bodyguards not know that an armed delegation of government officials was visiting? Was there no co-ordination between the two groups?
This incident sounds a bit like George W. Bush's recent visit to Baghdad, where the Iraqi PM admitted he had only 5 minutes notice of Bush's presence in the country. How much notice did al-Sudani's men have of the Australian visit?
Were these plainclothes bodyguards part of al-Sudani's official staff, or were they unofficial religious or tribal protectors? Is it possible they could have been one of the many "death squads" that now roam Baghdad's streets, albeit in al-Sudani's employ? Did they perhaps have a secret mission to attack the Aussie delegation?
And why is al-Sudani not calling for a murder conviction in an Iraqi court? Isn't that how "sovereign" governments are supposed to work? Were private security contractors involved? IF so, was it a private contractor who pulled the trigger? (NB: ALL foreign soldiers and private contractors in Iraq still have diplomatic immunity, under rules laid down by the former US head of Iraq, Mr. Paul Bremer).
Just what sort of cowboys are running Iraq these days? Who is really in charge - the Iraqis or the US Coalition? What sort of trigger-happy hoons are minding the Australian government's stooges in Iraq, and what does an incident like this tell us about the much-vaunted "improvements" in security there?
What a farce.
UPDATE 1: Meanwhile, more than 100 employees of Iraq's Ministry of Industry have been kidnapped by gunmen north of Baghdad as they left work. Things are going great, obviously.