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Wednesday, 9 February 2005
Page: 138

Senator LIGHTFOOT (6:42 PM) —I am privileged tonight to be able to participate in this address-in-reply to the speech made by the Governor-General, Major General Michael Jeffery, on 16 November last year. I do not necessarily want to continue where my colleague Senator George Brandis left off, but I also do want to say something about Iraq. It is a country which I have visited and to which I was a guest—once last year and once this year, having arrived back only last week.

I want to briefly outline something about Iraq, not as I know it but statistically. Iraq is of course in the Middle East. It has the Persian Gulf at its southern extreme and it lies between and is abutted by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom of Jordan, Syria, Turkey and, with a major border on its eastern side, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Its area is 437,000 square kilometres, with the land component being 432,000 square kilometres. Its coastline, by comparison, is only 58 kilometres. Its terrain—and I have seen a lot of it—is mostly broad plains and reedy marshes along the Iranian border down in the south but with vast mountain ranges to the north. The larger cities in the south are Umm Qasr and Basra. It has large flooded areas because it is fed by two major rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris, with the Tigris only running into the gulf.

Iraq has a glorious imperial past spanning over thousands of years. The first civilisations could be said to have settled up to 10,000 years ago between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers because of the rich flood plains supplied by those ancient rivers. A 12-year noncompliance with a United Nations resolution led to the Iraqi war, led by a coalition of nations, of which Australia was one, in March 2003. However, after the victory, the coalition worked assiduously to transfer power to a new sovereignty—one that would be based eventually on democracy—and that process began on 28 June 2004.

I went to Iraq two weeks ago to witness the election, to make sure that everything was run in accordance with the best possible practices given the appalling conditions that people in Iraq have suffered as a result of one of the great killers of the world, Saddam Hussein, and, more lately, with the insanity of the bestial insurgents, who kill indiscriminately—regardless of sex, regardless of age, regardless of anything really. How anyone could kill innocent people in the name of a god, expecting to seek some divine reward, is beyond my comprehension. The areas that I visited were mainly in northern Iraq or Kurdistan and were near Mosul: Kirkuk in the south-eastern part of Kurdistan and Sulaimaniya in the central eastern part. I paid a visit to Halabjah, Arbil and Dahuk, which are all major cities—some bigger, some smaller—of the Kurdish part of northern Iraq.

I met Prime Minister Allawi, who I have met on a couple of occasions. This gentlemen has conveyed himself in such an excellent manner that I hope he plays a major role in any new Iraq and particularly in any new federation. I also met the leader of the Kurds, his Excellency Jalal Talabani, who has for 45 years been what is termed a ‘peshmerger’—a patriot—who has fought for the independence of Kurdistan because of the appalling treatment of his countrymen, who happen to be different ethnically from the Arabs of the south. Mr Talabani is also certain to play a major role in any reorganised federation of Iraq.

The Kurds in the north make up approximately 20 per cent of the population of Iraq, which was estimated in July 2004 to be just over 25 million people. Of those people, 60 per cent are Shiah, 20 per cent are Sunni and 20 per cent are Kurdish. It is the Kurdish people to which I wish to continue my remarks. The Kurdish people have a long and ancient history, something akin to that of the people who represent different backgrounds in this House. But Kurdistan, if I can call it that—the northern part of Iraq—is something of a special interest to me. The Kurds have been persecuted for decades. They have been persecuted by the Ottomans and persecuted particularly by Saddam Hussein, a Sunni—one of the 20 per cent that has controlled Iraq over the past 50 years, although not always under Saddam Hussein.

Debate interrupted.