Sunday, September 18, 2005

Iraqi official in plea for Australian troops to stay

By Andra Jackson (
September 12, 2005

A VISITING member of the Iraqi Government has urged Australia not to withdraw its troops from Iraq before Iraqi security forces are consolidated and the country secure.

Speaking in Melbourne yesterday, Ammar al-Hakim, a leading figure in the United Iraqi Alliance and son of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said the question of when it was time for troops to leave should be left to "the military experts".

Mr Hakim, the first Iraqi Government member to visit Australia since Saddam Hussein's overthrow, was in Thomastown to update the Iraqi community on how Iraq's draft constitution had been reached and on preparations for the October 15 referendum to ratify it.

He refuted the suggestion that Australia's involvement in Iraq had made it a terrorist target saying "it has nothing to do with the existence of Australian troops in Iraq. They are Muslims and they are killing us in hundreds and hundreds and this has nothing to do with religion. It has something to do with the ideology they believe".

He also disclosed that in his round of Canberra talks, which included meeting Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Prime Minister John Howard's adviser, Nick Warner, he raised his Government's concerns for Iraqi refugees held in detention or living on temporary protection visas. He asked that they be given special consideration and granted permanent protection visas.

Mr Hakim, in Australia at the invitation of the Iraqi community, wanted to dispel the negative image of Iraq presented by the media concentration on "explosions and killings".

"This is a very small issue compared to the reality of what is happening in Iraq".
There had been progress towards democracy with many people from different religions, sects and nationalities sitting together at one table for discussion, he said.

Australians also had an image of Iraq as "all unsafe". That was not right. Kurdistan to the north, and the middle and southern areas of Iraq were now considered "very safe".
Problems remained around Baghdad and in parts of western Iraq, but despite the tension "we can see the people are not afraid". There have been achievements with new agriculture and oil projects in southern Iraq. "People are living a normal life and going to their shops, to school and university ? all the elements you find elsewhere you find in Iraq," he said.

There are still electricity and water supply shortages which date back to Saddam's regime but normal wages have risen from 3000 Iraqi dinar under Saddam to 5000 dinar.
Inroads had also been made against the insurgents with the number of car bombings dropping from 17 a day four months ago to two a day at present.

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