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Australian troops counselled over shooting -

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Australian troops counselled over shooting

Reporter: Matt Brown

LISA MILLAR: The ABC's Matt Brown is in Baghdad where he's been speaking to Australian troops. I
asked him about the reaction to the killing.

MATT BROWN: Well I spoke today to the Commander of the Australians in the Middle East Area of
Operation, Brigadier Michael Crane.

He has ordered a formal investigation. He says that after all, a man's been killed and it is a
serious matter. He has repeated the assertions made over the weekend that the initial investigation
shows that the soldiers were acting within their rules of engagement and the soldiers involved -
there were two Australians involved - have been offered counselling.

He says they seem to be holding up reasonably well despite the obvious trauma that being involved
in such an incident entails.

LISA MILLAR: Is anyone suggesting that they acted improperly?

MATT BROWN: No. No one's making that suggestion at all. The person who was killed, the victim in
the shooting was a civilian contractor. I haven't confirmed this yet, but it's my understanding
that he was an employee of Kellogg, Brown and Root. That's the large American contractor which
provides what they call life support over here. Services like food, sanitation and the like.

LISA MILLAR: And is there any understanding why he drove towards the checkpoint and appeared to
ignore any of the signals?

MATT BROWN: No, there isn't and I guess he being the only person in the vehicle, that's going to be
pretty hard to find out.

These checkpoints are very well marked out. Most people who drive through them do so very, very
carefully. There are after all fairly heavy weapons trained on you when you're doing that.

There are concrete walls to funnel the traffic and it can be fairly tense, because the green zone
isn't really that secure.

There's a lot of traffic, a lot of civilian and military traffic moving very fast through the green
zone and there have been cases in the past of suicide bombers and car bombers making it inside the
perimeter.

So those internal checkpoints are crucial, but you do go through a lot of them, especially if
you're working or doing business in the green zone.

So it could be easy to get blasé about them.

LISA MILLAR: So are these soldiers basically off duty now until this investigation's complete?

MATT BROWN: Well they are still with the SecDet, with the Security Detachment and as I said,
they've been monitored. They seem to be doing fairly well. I'm not sure what their official status
is.

This has happened before, I should say. I was here in early 2005, some Australians were manning a
checkpoint, they shot and killed an Iraqi man who did a similar thing. He kept driving at them
despite being warned to stop. And the man's wife and child were fairly seriously wounded.

But the Australian military I've been told today is still in the process, in a low-key way, of
helping that family out, providing medical assistance for example.

LISA MILLAR: Matt Brown, has there been any response amongst the Australians you've been talking
to, to this latest plan that's come out of the US from the President?

MATT BROWN: Now the Australians take a very low-key approach to that and are staying away from
commenting.

The American troops I've been with have a real range of reactions. Some really hope it can make a
difference and some feel a bit disheartened that back home, the effort that they're a part of isn't
seen in that great a light.

A lot of others, though, just feel, having been outside the wire, having been on patrols in
Baghdad, for example, that troops won't be able to make a difference, that the problems here, the
sectarianism, the activity of the Shi'ite militias in particular are things that people tell
stories about. That they are just so difficult to deal with, especially just with soldiers, that it
may be an intractable problem that they can't fix, regardless of how many people get sent here.

LISA MILLAR: Matt, have you been able to get a sense of reaction from Iraqis to the plan?

MATT BROWN: Look, Iraqi reaction is still what it was immediately after and that is, mixed. Not
terribly optimistic. Some people hope, because they are desperate for security, that more soldiers
can make a difference, but they don't have that much confidence in the Iraqi troops that are really
going to be the backbone of this effort in Baghdad.

And like I was saying about the Americans, so many Iraqis had experiences on the ground of really
small incidents that we never hear about in the news media; of being stopped by the Mahdi army, the
Shi'ite militia loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr and asked where they're going; of having their brother
kidnapped at three in the morning, tortured with cigarette burns on his face by the Mahdi army
because he has Sunni friends and then dumped in an alleyway and told, you know, lose those Sunni
friends.

So these sorts of smaller incidents loom large in the lives of individuals and really have
undermined any confidence that they have that their own government forces, or the Americans, can do
much to turn it around.

LISA MILLAR: Middle East Correspondent Matt Brown in Baghdad.

(c) 2007 ABC