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Transcript of doorstop interview: Adelaide Airport: 8 August 2004: [The Iraqi Olympic team out of Baghdad to Athens]\n

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DATE: August 8 2004

TITLE: Doorstop - Adelaide Airport

Downer: I want to say that the Australian Defence Force have today been able to fly the Iraqi Olympic Team out of Baghdad on their way to Athens. I’m very proud that the Australian Defence Force is flying an Iraqi team of 48 athletes. And we wish those athletes well in the challenges they face in the Olympic Games. At the last Olympics in Sydney Iraq had four athletes. Those athletes were subject to the brutality of Saddam Hussein’s son Uday. This time around the Iraqi athletes - 48 of them - will represent a liberated country and a country which is working its way towards a new constitution, and a country which is a great deal freer than the country that was represented before. So the Australian Air Force and the Australian Government is happy to assist the Iraqi athletes make their way to Athens.

Journalist: Inaudible.

Downer: We were approached and asked if we would be able to provide some assistance to the Iraqi team, and we were happy to accommodate that request.

Journalist: Did it require a great deal of logistical planning?

Downer: Obviously security is a consideration, and we’ve made the announcement after the flight has taken place, rather than before the flight takes place so that the security of the Iraqi team is maximised. But they’ve made the first part of the journey to Amman in Jordan.

Journalist: Inaudible.

Downer: I think it’s very appropriate that a country like Australia, which has helped to free the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein, should play a role in getting their Olympic team to the Olympic Games. I think there’s a nice symbolism about that. Australia is a country which has really made a contribution to the freedom of Iraq and we’re proud of the contribution we’ve made and we’re happy to help the Olympic team on its way.

Journalist: Inaudible.

Downer: I hadn’t really thought of it like that, but in the case of East Timor I spoke with Kofi Annan about the importance of East Timor being able to have some sort of representation in Sydney. They had a very small team but it was wonderful to see. I think

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they got the second largest round of applause after the Australian team at the opening ceremony. I think the Iraqi team, by most people, will be warmly welcomed in Athens, because it’s a team that represents a new and a free country, rather than a team that represents brutal dictatorship which was the case four years ago.

Journalist: …letter from the 43 Australians….is this a dent to the Howard Government’s credibility?

Downer: I think you can make a judgement yourself whether you think the opinion of 43 people who have retired is more important than the opinion of the Iraqi people. I don’t think, whatever Australians may think - and they’d have different views about this, that there’d be many people in Iraq who wanted to go back to Saddam Hussein’s regime and weren’t absolutely delighted that Saddam Hussein’s regime has been overthrown and the new regime is emerging. And I think in the end, they’ve (inaudible) their judgement against the ultimate judges on this matter who are the people of Iraq.

Journalist: Inaudible.

Downer: Look, first of all I think the opinion of the Iraqi people is fundamentally important here. Secondly, what the Australian Government told the Australian people is what some of the people on that list told the Australian people, and it’s what all governments that I know of - with the exception of Saddam Hussein’s government - were telling the international community. The United Nations said that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations was in no doubt about it. That’s why they set up the United Nations inspection mission. That’s why they sent Hans Blix back into Iraq. They didn’t send him back into Iraq because they didn’t think Iraq had weapons of mass

destruction. The United Nations believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Almost every government in the world believed that. I wouldn’t accuse the United Nations or the governments of the world, be they the American or the German or the French or the British or the Italian Governments of being dishonest or loose with the truth. They all (inaudible) information which led them to believe that Saddam Hussein did have weapons of

mass destruction.

Journalist: Inaudible.

Downer: I don’t think you could ever accuse a government that has on the one hand made a contribution to freeing the people of Iraq in the teeth of quite a lot of opposition - including a lot of these people who’ve been out there over the last two years attacking the Australian Government, some of them over the last eight years have been out there attacking the Australian Government. I don’t think, of all the things you could accuse the Australian Government of, I don’t think you could accuse us of lacking backbone. We’ve been courageous in taking on challenges from East Timor to the Solomon Islands, to Papua New Guinea, to Afghanistan to Iraq. I think the government has shown tremendous strength and tremendous courage of purpose.

ENDS……………………………………………………………….August 8 2004