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Daily Media Quotation

It's Quite Simple

March 18, 2006

by Caroline Overington - The Australian

There are some people in Australia who claim that the Iraq wheat sales story is hopelessly confusing.

It's actually quite simple.

The Howard Government has long been in possession of a small mountain of documents - cables, emails, spy notes - many of which suggest Australia's wheat exporter AWB was paying bribes to Saddam Hussein's regime.

The Government wants you - the reader - to believe that it never put the pieces of the puzzle together.

For example, it will admit to knowing that AWB traded wheat to Iraq under the UN's oil-for-food program.

It will also admit to knowing that Saddam corrupted the oil-for-food program by demanding that suppliers pay bribes to his regime.

It won't admit to putting those two pieces of knowledge together, to conclude that AWB paid bribes to Saddam.

In a similar vein, the Government admitted this week that its spy agencies have known since 1998 that a Jordanian trucking company called Alia was in fact a front for Saddam's regime.

It also knew that AWB employed a Jordanian trucking company to help with its wheat deliveries in Iraq.

But it says it didn't put those two pieces of information together either.

The problem with this part of the Government's defence is that at least one AWB executive, Charles Stott, and one former official from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Jill Courtney, insist "Alia" was a name known to the Government as far back as 2000.

Ms Courtney said in testimony yesterday that she read or heard about "Alia" while she was working on Iraq issues for the department in 2000.

She said she knew Alia was a Jordanian trucking company - and that it was connected to AWB's wheat sales.

In his testimony, Mr Stott said that he had talked to DFAT officials about Alia in September 2000, because AWB was having problems getting wheat unloaded in Iraq.

He said the Government had approved the use of the company.

He has a letter, on DFAT letterhead no less, that clearly gives AWB permission to use "Jordanian trucking companies" in Iraq.

The Government says this proves nothing because, while the letter does give AWB permission to use Jordanian trucking companies, it doesn't mention Alia.

Is the wheat story really all that complicated?

No, but the Government is hoping you - the reader - are stupid.

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