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Tuesday, 25 November 2003
Page: 22707

Mr HUNT (2:19 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of the government's response to the recent attack on CARE headquarters in Baghdad and threats made against international non-government organisations working in Iraq?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Flinders for his question. I know he has been very close to many of these NGOs, such as CARE Australia, over a number of years. The government condemns the attack on CARE's Baghdad headquarters which took place on Friday. Sir William Deane, who is the Chairman of CARE Australia, rang me on Saturday and told me about the attack and about CARE's decision not to close their operation, which has about 70 Iraqis working in it, but to withdraw around six expatriate staff from Baghdad to nearby Jordan. Fortunately no-one was injured in the attack, CARE Australia has told me, and I think it is right to say that the attack happened during the course of the night.

The self-proclaimed perpetrators of this attack are called the Iraqi Resistance, and they have issued a death threat demanding all international aid staff leave Iraq before the last day of Eid, which is this week. The government cannot verify the credibility of this threat but it does continue to advise Australians against travelling to Iraq, as we have done for a long time. We understand the need for NGOs to take precautions, but we hope the draw-down of staff will be temporary because their work is vital for the Iraqi people. CARE, for example, is repairing water sanitation and health care infrastructure in Iraq and is assisting schools for the disabled. The government has given CARE $A4 million for these activities.

Let me just make this clear to the House: the terrorists who have committed this outrage and many other outrages in Iraq will not prevail in their campaign, which is designed to restore the Ba'athist regime of Saddam Hussein. We are implacably opposed to the restoration of that evil and barbarous regime and, more to the point, most of the people of Iraq are implacably opposed to the restoration of that barbarous regime. We will not allow these sorts of attacks, we will not allow this sort of intimidation to bend our resolve to ensure that the people of Iraq are able to live in peace and freedom in the years ahead.