June 22, 2006

Australia rejects apology demand for Iraq shooting

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister John Howard
said on Friday it would be inappropriate to apologize to Iraq
yet for the killing of an Iraqi government bodyguard by
Australian troops in a shooting mishap in Baghdad.

Australia is trying to negotiate new wheat deals worth
hundreds of millions of dollars but Iraqi Trade Minister Abdul
Falah al-Sudany has called for an apology for the shooting and
threatened to reconsider trade deals with Australia.

Australian soldiers mistakenly opened fire on Sudany's
bodyguards on Wednesday, killing one and wounding three people.

Howard said he was sorry the man had been killed but he
wanted to know all the facts before he would consider a formal
apology or accept any blame.

"Until I know what's happened it's not appropriate to be
flinging out apologies," Howard told Australian television.

A full military inquiry is underway.

Howard said the Iraqi trade minister had told Australian
diplomats in Baghdad the incident would not affect any wheat

"The Iraqi trade minister told our ambassador that he
greatly appreciated the letter which Mark Vaile had sent to him
and that he did not want this incident to interfere with the
bilateral relationship or to affect our trade relationship,"
Howard said referring to a letter written by his Trade Minister
Mark Vaile.

Australia and the United States have been competing
fiercely for the Iraq wheat import market, one of the world's
biggest, since 2003.

Australia is a staunch U.S. ally and was one of the first
to join the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.

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

A 2005 U.N. report alleged that AWB was one of the biggest
among 2,000 companies that had paid kickbacks to Saddam's
government through the U.N.-managed "oil-for-food program."