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Government must clarify new role for troops in Iraq.

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Robert McClelland MP Shadow Minister for Defence Federal Member for Barton

28 July 2006


The new role our troops will be performing in the Dhi Qar Province of Iraq has been described by the Minister for Defence as being akin to the civil call-out arrangements that operate in Australia.

This new ‘security overwatch’ role at Tallil lacks appropriate accountability and safeguards.

Significantly, our domestic call-out provisions provide that our troops can only perform tasks as requested by the civilian policing authorities.

Iraq’s security forces are wracked by their own involvement in sectarian violence. The extent to which Australian troops should be required to undertake tasks as directed by such authorities is clearly a major concern.

Similarly, in Australia, a chain of authorisation is required before a call-out request is made. In Iraq who will constitute that chain? Will it be the Interior Minister, the Defence Minister or some lower order officer?

Again, the legislation in Australia provides that the overall command of a potential crisis scene rests with the State Commissioner of Police. If the overall direction of the scene in Iraq is with Iraqi security authorities, what does this mean for the risks that may be faced by our troops or questionable motivations that may exist on the part of elements within the Iraqi security forces?

In Australia there is a careful regime in place where our troops can only detain a person for a minimum period before they are delivered to civilian policing authorities. Are we potentially putting our troops in a position where they may be handing over someone to torture or, indeed, to capital punishment?

Other questions relate to when coercive or lethal force is authorised. As indicated in an Irish case of Crown v Clegg, our troops could be exposed to criminal sanction if these powers are not clarified.

Without such clarification there is also a risk that our troops may be perceived as taking sides in the escalating sectarian conflict. This may well result in our troops being specifically targeted by the competing sides - potentially placing them at greater risk.

Further information: Tom Cameron 0417 147 932