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Monday, 3 March 2003
Page: 12007


Mr DANBY (5:04 PM) —Something can be true, even if George Bush says it is true. That is a logical argument with which, I believe, critics of the war in Iraq should view the President's recent statements on the possibilities of democracy in the Arab world after this conflict.

The opposition's policy, which I support, is that any military conflict with Iraq to enforce the disarmament provisions of the United Nations must be done with UN Security Council approval. That is still the position of the opposition and the position I still support. But I do not believe that, if there is to be a conflict with Iraq, the lack of respect shown for the Arab people by so many who believe that the vicious tyranny of Saddam Hussein should just be left in place is a state that we ought simply to accept. I do not believe that risking blood to liberate Iraq would be futile.

Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and their potential threats to people in the region should not be the sole concern. One has to balance those concerns, as most people do, against the prospect of invading a sovereign country like Iraq—even one led by a regime as repugnant as that of Saddam Hussein. The legitimate fear of many good people is that the civilian deaths entailed in such an invasion would be so numerous and terrible—although I do not believe that is a view that is widely shared by people in Iraq—that they would not justify the human rights benefit that would be gained by the people of Iraq. An important delegation of the Kurdish minority, for instance, has just been here in Parliament House. The head of that delegation, Dr Mofak Sorani, gave a briefing to the opposition foreign affairs committee, and I believe that these people also believe that Iraq might, like other states in the Arab world, eventually become democratic. I also believe that the Arab people of Iraq, whether they are Shia, Sunni or Kurdish, do not like the current state of being brutalised, tortured and murdered by the fascist Ba'athist regime in Iraq. It is not the natural order of things, and those people in this world who argue that one should simply tolerate it are in denial.

Some of the more interesting opponents of the war in Iraq include Senator Bob Brown of the Greens. He is a genuine supporter of human rights in many countries in the world, including Tibet. While I do not often single him out for praise, he has said of this conflict that there are understandable differences between genuine people and that the situation is not clear-cut. The situation is not clear-cut with weapons of mass destruction. The situation is not clear-cut about the civilian deaths that might be caused by a conflict versus the civilian deaths that take place there every day. My view is that the primary issue in all of this is the human rights of the people of Iraq.

The Kurdish delegation was telling us about the conference that has just taken place in northern Iraq of all the Iraqi opposition groups. Whatever party we are from, as democrats in the Australian parliament we would hope—however idealistic it may seem—that the democratic views of those people would be able to take their tortured country of the last 30 years into a better future. The Kurds, the Sunni and the Shia seem to have worked out an arrangement that would lead to a federal Iraq where there would be power sharing between the various confessional groups, the rule of law and elections. All of these things may seem idealistic but they should be things that people on all sides of politics throughout the developed world identify with. If they support democracy in their own countries, it must be good enough for people in that part of the world too.

It is very interesting that there is currently a major international argument, of which Australia should be part, saying that if there is to be a post-Saddam Iraq then it ought to be a democratic one and that the proposals of the Iraqi democratic opposition, the Kurdish minority et cetera ought to be seriously considered. It is very alarming that Mr Ahmad Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, the umbrella group of the Iraqi opposition, had to recently write an article calling for `Iraq for the Iraqis'. He is very concerned that post-conflict there would be a Ba'athist regime set up with an American face. There is a proposal by some people in the US State Department and by other Western chanceries for military officers to be in charge of Iraqi ministries. The same murderers and torturers, who have been so well described by anyone who wants to examine the literature, would be left in control there. I think we should very much consider the comments of Professor Kanan Makiya, who is the main intellectual in Iraq's opposition. For Americans to go back on the democratic plan post-conflict, he says:

... would be an unmitigated disaster for the long-term relationship between the US and the Iraqi people.

... ... ...

The Iraqi opposition is going to become anti-American the day after liberation. It is a great irony.

He does not want the plan for Saddam's ruling Ba'ath party to remain largely intact with two officials in each Iraqi ministry replaced by US military officers. Professor Makiya is the well-known author of Republic of Fear, which is the definitive book about the state of terror in Iraq at the moment under Saddam Hussein. He is also Professor of International Relations at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. He said that this plan of some people in the various foreign ministries in the West is bizarre and that it is Ba'athism with an American face. This is certainly something that we in Australia should not support.

It is very disappointing that our government has not done more to find out about the situation in northern Iraq. We have not had an official visit there since 1993, as I have established from questions that I have been asking of this government. We have not had any humanitarian assistance for the great British geneticist Dr Christine Godsen, who has attempted to define and work out what happened during the dreadful chemical weapons attacks on the people of Kurdistan—the infamous Al Anfal campaign where more than 100,000 Kurds were gassed to death by Saddam Hussein. This is a topic that I will come back to at another time in the parliament, particularly the dreadful use of dual-use weapons principally supplied from German firms. This is demonstrated in the Iraqi letter of compliance of 7 December to the United Nations. The German firms—of all firms in this world—provided more than 50 per cent of the chemical agents that were used in those campaigns, since the UNSCOM inspectors were in Iraq after the end of the Gulf War.

I had intended to recall some of the people who I would describe as part of the Australian hall of shame who propagandised for the fascist regime in Baghdad. These include people like Dr Robert Springborg, the Secretary and Vice-President of the Australia-Iraq Friendship Society from 1979 to 1984, who claimed at one point during the Gulf War that the Iranian people had gassed themselves in order to elicit international sympathy. He was used as a commentator on the ABC during the Gulf War until, quite rightly, former Prime Minister Hawke made a devastating attack on his credibility by pointing out these kinds of things. I notice the member for Casey recently was trying to make a great play and embarrass the opposition about its history in dealing with these matters. He does not remember that the people in the Labor Party who were involved in some relationship with the Iraqi Ba'athist party were disciplined by the national executive. Of course, Mr Bill Hartley, the gentleman from Victoria who led so many missions of naive and not so naive people to Iraq over the years, was ultimately expelled from the Labor Party in 1986.

There is also the infamous pro-Iraqi journalism throughout the 1980s and 1990s of Claudia Wright, who described Saddam Hussein as `dashing' and `flexible'. I do not know on what possible rational grounds she based those judgments, but they were printed in journals as prestigious as the Journal of International Affairs, the Chatham House Papers and the Atlantic Monthly. They constitute the Australian hall of shame for what has happened over the last 30 years to the people of Iraq who have been abused by the fascist regime there. One day, whether via this UN Security Council resolution on not, Iraqi citizens will enjoy the same democratic and civil liberties as Australian citizens. (Time expired)