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Shooting threatens Iraq-Australia trade ties

June 22, 2006

By Aseel Kami and Ross Colvin

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s trade minister threatened on
Thursday to reconsider trade deals with wheat supplier
Australia after Australian troops killed one of his bodyguards
in a shooting mishap in the capital.

The Australian government is trying to negotiate new wheat
deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars with Iraq, one of
the world’s biggest wheat buyers.

The U.S. military said four Marines were killed on Tuesday
in two attacks in Anbar province, heartland of the Sunni
insurgency, and a soldier died on Wednesday in a roadside
bombing south of Baghdad.

There was confusion surrounding the reported abduction of
80 factory workers north of Baghdad on Wednesday by gunmen who
commandeered their buses as they returned home.

An official in the office of the industry minister said
police reports were inaccurate and that 30 had been abducted,
of whom 25 had been freed. The fate of the other five was
unknown.

The Australian defense force confirmed on Thursday that its
soldiers had mistakenly opened fire on bodyguards of Trade
Minister Abdul Falah al-Sudany in Baghdad on Wednesday, killing
one and wounding three people.

“The minister holds the Australian government responsible
and demands an apology and payment of compensation. If this
does not happen he will reconsider trade agreements between the
two countries,” his spokesman Muhammed Hanoun told Reuters.

“Iraqi blood is more important than anything else,” he
said.

APOLOGY

Australia said it was proceeding with wheat shipments to
Iraq from a recent sale and had not been informed of Baghdad’s
threat to reconsider trade.

Australia’s ambassador telephoned the trade minister to
offer his apology and condolences for the shooting. Australia’s
defense force said the incident was under investigation.

“The ADF deeply regrets the injuries and loss of life that
has occurred. As with all ADF incidents of this nature the
matter will be formally and fully investigated,” Vice Chief of
the Australian Defense Force (ADF), Lieutenant General Ken
Gillespie, said in a statement.

The shooting took place outside the trade minister’s
offices. Police said it appeared the Australians mistook the
minister’s bodyguards, dressed in civilian clothes and armed
with AK-47 rifles, for insurgents and opened fire.

They said the soldiers had been protecting a visiting trade
delegation, but Hanoun said they were at the office to arrange
a meeting with the Australian ambassador.

He said one bodyguard was killed, two wounded and a
civilian passerby hurt in the incident, which he called
“provocative.”

Iraq imports around 3 million tonnes of wheat a year to
help feed its 27 million people.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s conservative
government has extended an inquiry into allegations the
country’s monopoly wheat exporter AWB Ltd. paid $222 million in
kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s former government.

AWB was the biggest wheat seller to Iraq under the U.N.
“oil-for-food” scheme, selling around $2.2 billion worth of
grain.

(Additional reporting by Paul Tait and Michael Byrnes in
Sydney)


Source: reuters



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