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Aussie Wheat Sales To Iraq: Is the Crop About to be Reaped?

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With my upbringing in a farming community, and having been a farmer as well as auctioneer, one of the traits I learned from that agricultural community and life is that sooner or later bullshit, of the human kind, gets found out.

So it was with a large degree of incredulity that I watched Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard say that his government had naught to do with the near $300 million in dubious payments made to a transport company supposedly linked to Saddam Hussein and that it was an Australian Wheat Board (AWB) matter now as it has been a privatised commercial entity since July 1999.

In other words ”flick pass” and “we’re in the clear, let’s get on with terrorism and industrial changes.”

Ah, if only it were so simple.

Now I can accept, if not condone, that the AWB’s salespeople, in order to gain a near billion-dollar wheat contract, would have turned a blind eye to the fact that the transport company involved to shift wheat to Iraq was somehow tied to Saddam Hussein. But what really has got up my nose is the report in today’s Weekend Australian that Iraqi Minister Ahmed Chalabi, the bloke shown to have passed on “suss” information to the US hierarchy about Saddam Hussein’s military aspirations and capabilities (and who must be in deep, deep trouble with “the powers that be”), is now trying to hang the AWB out to dry.

What is especially galling is not that he is asking for the return of the $300 million paid to “the transport company” (commercially, that is fair enough), but that somehow Uncle Sam has slipped in with a billion-dollar wheat order from Iraq, leading to the annulment of Australia’s contract!

And we thought we were allies of President Bush!

As I said, maybe the crop is now about to be reaped and our PM, based as he sometimes is in the Bush capital of Australia, is about to see if his truck can carry the load of repaying the $300 million and while managing to elude responsibility for having approved the deal in the first place.

I am certain that the AWB people, when they struck the deal, had no idea that just seven months later, Dubya and his posse would saddle up to ”get the man that tried to kill my daddy,” and that in the process, deals such as these and other “oil for food” rackets eventually would surface.

As the matter heats up over the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see what the average Australian wheat farmer, who has to sell his wheat through the AWB monopoly, thinks about the subject.

It seems to me – hence my skepticism regarding the recent Free Trade deal with the US – that Australia, just like various South American countries that are now finding out about it, has been played the sucker. Apparently, American benevolence exists only as long as the big buck heads back to the l’il ole US of A.

In an observation that most certainly would be foreign to many in powerful positions in America, it seems also to me that the current terrorism situation is about struggles within fundamentalism and that bin Laden et al are wishing to eliminate not only westerners but also moderate Muslims wherever they may be in order to establish a fundamentalist Muslim empire again.

Just as a fire needs material with which to fuel its flames, terrorism needs fuel for its exploits. Maybe, just maybe, if affluent nations were to spend time and money eliminating as much as possible the issues that lead to terrorism, we may well starve bin Laden and others of their recruits.

As someone once observed, those with full bellies and sound sleep invariably do not cause mayhem. Those without, as the streets of France have shown these last few days , certainly do.

The question goes begging of how much we are putting into educational, health and infrastructure areas in these nations as against what’s invested in arms and ammunition and occupying troops.

This is not to say the troops from the US, Australia, Britain and other nations should pull out of Iraq — we started the whole bloody shambles. The reality is that bin Laden, now that President Bush has converted Iraq from a non-al Quaeda stronghold or “area of influence” to one that very much is one, does not have to win.

He simply has to not lose and as Vietnam showed only too clearly, the battle there was won by the Viet Cong not so much in the steamy jungles and tunnels, but in American living rooms, where television-watching citizens watched body bags come home.

Carpe diem.

Ed/Pub:LisaM

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About Anthony Fountain

  • Eric Olsen

    very interesting assortment of issues Anthony — I was not even aware of the Australian wheat deal situation — and a lively presentation, although the wheat deal and American-Austalian relations was probably enough for a single post.

    I don’t think there is any queston that it is critical that the Islamic world be assisted in moving forward, but I think giving people a say in their governments is equally important as economic development, and isn’t giving people a say in their government ultimately why it is so important Iraq not fail?