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Convoy attack may be opportunistic: Downer -

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Convoy attack may be opportunistic: Downer

Reporter: Tony Jones

TONY JONES: Well, back now to our top story and it's been another grim 48 hours in Iraq.

Amid the now-regular ambushes, bombings and mortar attacks, another true horror story stands out.

Forty-nine Iraqi men, most of them army trainees, were pulled over at a fake roadblock and
massacred, many of them forced to lie on their stomachs in the dust and killed with shots to the
back of the head.

Then, an American diplomat was killed by a mortar attack on the secured Green Zone.

And at 8:00am this morning Bagdad time a car bomb explodes alongside a convoy of three Australian
armoured vehicles.

Three Australian soldiers were injured and at least two Iraqi civilians were killed.

Joining us now from his home in Adelaide is the Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

Thanks for joining us, Mr Downer.

ALEXANDER DOWNER:, FOREIGN MINISTER: It's a pleasure.

TONY JONES: I understand you've just had a briefing from Baghdad.

What more can you tell us about this bombing?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, we still don't know who's responsible for the bombing, we know that two of
the vehicles were damaged.

But most importantly three of the Australian defence personnel were injured, two of them have now
been released from hospital, one of them is still in hospital but I understand the injuries are not
too serious.

But we don't know whether the Australians were targeted or whether they weren't, but we'll have to
await further information.

Of course we can't be sure we'll ever find out.

TONY JONES: Have the relatives of the Australians injured been notified?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I understand they have, yes.

The Defence Department advises me they have.

TONY JONES: There were two Iraqi civilians killed in this attack as well.

It may well have been a suicide bombing.

Do we know the number of deaths in this incident?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: That's all I know.

I know that two Iraqis were killed and that the bomb went off near a school.

I don't know whether they were children or adults, but I only know that two Iraqis were killed in
the incident.

TONY JONES: Do you know at this stage whether it was a suicide bombing?

We have heard there was an Iraqi taxi, this is from an American officer on the scene - an Iraqi
taxi pulled over, stopped and apparently waited for the Australian convoy to come past before it
exploded?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: We don't know that, no.

Nor do we know the motive for the bombing.

The three ASLAV vehicles were not taking the route that they usually take.

You might be able to conclude from that that they weren't particularly being targeted, just perhaps
more generally coalition forces, broadly defined, were being targeted, not necessarily Australians.

But, look, it's far too early to say.

We really just don't know and I don't want to get into too many hypotheses about this.

TONY JONES: These are the same vehicles used to ferry diplomats around Baghdad in safety, is that
correct?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Yes, they provide protection we have some of our vehicle, for example, there is
an armoured vehicle that the ambassador and some of the staff used from time to time.

And, so the ASLAV vehicles provide protection for movement of our diplomats and officials around
Baghdad.

That's exactly right.

TONY JONES: Now, we keep hearing that these insurgents have very good intelligence.

Isn't it reasonable to assume that this was not therefore a random attack on the convoy?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: It's possible, but we didn't know.

I made the point a moment ago that according to advice I've had from the Defence Department, I
obviously don't know myself, I wasn't there, but according to the advice from the Defence
Department, the vehicles weren't travelling along the route that they normally use.

What can you conclude from that?

Some people might hypothesise that that means that this was an opportunistic attack rather than a
specific attack on Australian vehicles.

But, I couldn't really be sure.

It's possible that it was a specific attack on Australian vehicles as you know, there have been a
number of attacks on coalition forces.

The attacks in more recent times have focused much more on Iraqis but there have been from time to
time attacks on coalition forces and they've been fairly indiscriminate.

They've been attacks against foreign forces as distinct from necessarily just focusing on
Americans.

So, I mean, the fact that there haven't been attacks on Australians so far is, I suspect, much more
a matter of both good management and luck than anything else.

TONY JONES: So, it's quite feasible in fact that Australians may have been targeted?

You'd certainly aren't ruling that out?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: No, I wouldn't, not at all.

TONY JONES: There have been two bombing I believe quite close to the embassy prior to this.

The first, this is the first attack on Australian vehicles.

Will you now accelerate efforts, since this also happened very close to the embassy, will you now
accelerate efforts to move the embassy into the green zone?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, we're moving it as fast as we can.

We made the decision, well, way back when I was in Baghdad myself.

So that's in around May 2003 to move the embassy from where it currently is.

At the moment it's in a building which is a house and it was originally the residence of the
Australian ambassador in Baghdad.

We're moving it into the international zone, into a building that I inspected myself.

It's obviously much better protected.

It's a much more appropriate building.

So we made that decision in May and work is or has now started but that building needs quite a lot
of work done to it before we can move in, so it will still be, I'm afraid, some months before we
able to move in.

But that's a good question, because the sooner we move in there the more comfortable I'll feel.

The only thing to add is that the embassy building where it currently is down a lane.

It's possibly for the security detachment, SECDET of the Australian Defence Force, to provide good
protection in that lane, and they obviously have done that so far.

But, you know, I think the new location will be a much more secure location than the present one.

TONY JONES: There have of course been a proliferation of attacks as I said, two bombings, now the
attack about armoured vehicles and only last week an Australian journalist taken from just across
the road - by kidnappers - from the Australian embassy.

Why not move the Australian diplomats and security forces into temporary premises inside the green
zone?

Or is it just as dangerous there?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: It's not as dangerous but you've got to find the space in the green zone.

We found a location we can move to, but I think the security detachment from the Australian Defence
Force, look, it's obvious by their performance over quite some period of time, now, have done a
simply outstanding job.

I'm enormously impressed with their professionalism and the thought that they put into all of the
movements that take place of they themselves but also of the diplomatic and official personnel.

They have done a simply outstanding job.

A lot of people have been killed and a lot of people taken hostage in Iraq and it's a matter of
great relief to us that at least up until now we haven't had an incident anymore serious than the
incident we had today.

So, we'll move the embassy as quickly as we can, but you know, it obviously will take a bit of
time.

TONY JONES: Mr Downer, were you concerned to learn that 380 tonnes of high powered explosives
simply went missing because the US military evidently failed to secure those explosives when the UN
had warned them that they should do that?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, yes, I mean, these things happen and that's, of course, unfortunate.

Nobody would be in favour of that happening.

It is unfortunate that there have been those problems.

Maybe you'd expect that in a difficult environment like this, but it'd be better if it didn't
happen.

TONY JONES: Do you have any idea, because we keep hearing very different estimates, just how big
the insurgency is at the moment.

We keep hearing from the Americans, maybe 20,000, the British think there could be up to 50,000
full-time insurgents.

What does your intelligence estimate say?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, you're right to give a spread of figures.

You get an enormous spread of figures.

I don't think I'd want to take a stab at a figure myself.

There are essentially two categories of insurgents.

First of all, there are the Saddam Hussein loyalists and there are obviously a fair few of those
people, people who feel that they're going to lose with the advent of democracy, people who don't
want to see democracy take place because they want the return of a kind of authoritarian Ba'athist
regime of the type that existed in Saddam Hussein's time.

And secondly, there are the, if you like, Al Qaeda Abu Musab al-Zarqawi-type Islamic extremist
terrorists.

You've got a combination of those two categories of people.

There are some people on the terrorist side who have been coming in from other parts of the Middle
East to support the terrorists already there.

But look I couldn't take a stab at how many there are, but obviously it's a problem and the thing
we need to reflect on is what are these people trying to achieve?

What they ultimately want to do is make sure that the elections, which are scheduled for the end of
January, don't take place.

What do we as an international community want to achieve?

We want the elections to take place and we've got to do everything we possibly can to make sure
that that giant step towards democracy takes place in Iraq.

TONY JONES: It's said though that some American military analysts already believe that if there as
many as 20,000 or possibly more, it's impossible to defeat them militarily without a huge battle.

The question is, how far are we away from civil war if there are indeed that many?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, you know, Iraq will descend into chaos, however you define it, if the
elections in the end don't take place.

We obviously are working for them to take place at the end of January, that's the scheduled time
for them and I don't want to concede that they won't take place at that time.

Look, if there were some change to the timetable which wasn't particularly significant, it wouldn't
be a great issue but generally speaking we need the elections to be pretty much on schedule.

Once the elections have taken place, Iraq will have an emerging government which will have the
endorsement of the Iraqi people.

That's the first thing.

The second thing is there are already about 100,000 Iraqi security forces.

Now, Prime Minister Allawi estimates that that number will double by the end of next year.

TONY JONES: They're not having much effect at this stage, though, are they?

Look at what we've seen in the past 48 hours - 50 Iraqi army trainees over the weekend massacred on
a roadside.

Are you worried that the actual security forces that we're building up are infiltrated by spies?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: It's obviously a risk.

I could only tell you that.

The built up, we've all built up, 100,000, that's Prime Minister Allawi's figure.

We need to just keep working at it.

Sure there are problems.

That goes without saying.

We've got to think about what we're trying to achieve.

I think in this discussion about Iraq today, October 2004, that's what we got to keep our minds on.

Where are we trying to get to?

We're trying to get to the elections and we're trying to build up their security forces so that the
democratically elected government is able to provide appropriate security with at least minimal
support from the international community, though support from the international community will be
needed for quite some time.

On the other side of the argument are those the former Saddam Hussein or the Saddam Hussein
loyalists, the former Ba'athists and the Islamic extremist terrorists who want to destroy this
process.

They don't Iraq to back democracy and what we've got to do is make sure if you like our side of the
argument is successful.

TONY JONES: Mr Downer can I quickly turn to Indonesia?

How do you interpret Foreign Minister Wirayuda comments as reported in the Age today.

Appears to be backing your call for a security treaty?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, you know, I've had a chat with him during the course of today and as you
know, Hassan Wirayuda and I are pretty good friends.

Done a lot of projects together in his time as the Foreign Minister.

Both of us agree that in the medium term it would be a very constructive development if we were
able to bring together some of the agreements that we already have, which are really under the
auspices of memoranda of understanding into some kind of broader security treaty.

We don't want to repeat the treaty that Mr Keating signed with President Suharto, [which] obviously
didn't involve any democratic processes in Indonesia, but we're dealing with a new Indonesia, a
directly-elected President, a democratically elected Parliament, a government which we can work
very closely and effectively with and this is one of the ideas that we're working on, we've not
drawn any drafts up or got to that point, but it's part of I suppose a theme which is that both of
us believe that we need to really use this opportunity in history to accelerate the closeness of
our relationship.

TONY JONES: Mr Downer, we'll have more time hopefully on some other occasion to explore that in
more detail.

We thank you for taking the time to talk to us tonight.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: It's a pleasure.