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Thursday, 27 March 2003
Page: 13802

Mr LINDSAY (2:16 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of the government's response to reports of Iraqi military tactics to involve civilians in the current conflict and the apparent breaches of the laws of war?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —Can I thank the member for Herbert. I know how vigorously he represents his constituents up there in Townsville and, it being such an important defence base, they are very focused on the action now taking place in Iraq. The member for Herbert looks after them very well.

There is a pattern of reports indicating that Iraqi soldiers and irregulars have been deliberately using civilians as cover in their fighting, and the Prime Minister alluded to that in answer to an earlier question. Coalition troops have seen Iraqi civilians being marched out in front of irregular formations while those formations are firing at coalition forces. There are reports that United States forces have treated several wounded Iraqi civilians, including a child, at a captured air base in southern Iraq. The civilians said they had been used as human shields by Iraqi forces.

Iraqi soldiers have also been breaching the international laws of war. There are reports of Iraqi soldiers feigning surrender and then opening fire on coalition troops. Iraqi fighters are disguising themselves in civilian clothes. United States forces yesterday—and I thought this was particularly relevant—took control of the hospital at Nasiriya and found that it had been converted into a paramilitary headquarters and weapons storage area. This is a hospital. The marines in the hospital found 200 weapons and Iraqi military uniforms, and it was at this location that they also found 3,000 chemical protective suits and nerve agent antidote injectors. This is a frightening demonstration of the fact that Iraqi forces have been preparing for the use of chemical weapons, and it is something we are obviously deeply concerned about.

Mr DOWNER —As the Prime Minister has pointed out, coalition forces are doing their very best to avoid civilian casualties.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—I will not warn the member for Werriwa again!

Mr DOWNER —In Basra, aircraft are using precision, satellite-guided bombs to target Baath Party headquarters and military formations. British artillery are confining their attacks to the city's outskirts, targeting tanks and clear military formations. British commandos are conducting raids into the city to capture Baath Party leaders, but the Iraqis are deliberately placing their forces close to hospitals and civilian, built-up areas. A British gunner said he had seen tanks refuelling near a hospital to avoid being fired on by coalition forces and people being used as unwilling human shields. I can state quite categorically that the coalition has a very deliberate process of targeting only military objectives and that civilians are never targeted. That is in stark contrast to the Iraqi regime, whose record of recklessness and wilful disregard for the safety of people remains as undiminished as ever. In conclusion, let me say I was quite struck by a report I saw from the United Press International news agency, which quoted an American pastor with the Assyrian Church of the East who went to Iraq as a human shield. He told UPI that his trip:

... had shocked me back to reality.

Mr Joseph went on to say that some of the Iraqis he interviewed said:

... they would commit suicide if American bombing didn't start. They were willing to see their homes demolished to gain their freedom from Saddam's bloody tyranny. They convinced me that Saddam was a monster the likes of which the world had not seen since Stalin and Hitler.

That is the view of one person, and obviously many members would disagree with him. But I do think that is quite a striking testimony coming from a man who went to Iraq with the intention of acting as a human shield.