- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

CANBERRA, Australia, March 28 (UPI) — Australian Prime Minister John Howard said the U.S.-led military coalition must have a say on the future of Iraq after Saddam Hussein has been toppled.

Speaking on CNN's "Larry King Live" Thursday (Friday in Australia), Howard charted the map for Iraq after Saddam is toppled.

"We believe that, inevitably, there must be an interim period of American-supervised administration," he said. "We then see a greater role for the United Nations."

But the United Nations, he said, should keep in mind the role played by the U.S.-led coalition whose troops are fighting Saddam's forces.

"It has to be a role, in our view, that accepts the propriety of what has been done by the United States and Great Britain and Australia and others," he said. "It's got to be borne in mind that the countries that have made the commitment and brought about the disarmament of Iraq."

He also added that he saw a role for the Iraqi people in rebuilding their nation after decades of Saddam's rule.

"Not only the United States has a right to express a strong view about the post-conflict arrangements and to have that view respected, but all of us agree that the future belongs to the Iraqi people," he said. "And I want the people of Iraq to be able to choose the form of government that best suits them.

"I want their oil assets to be for their future benefit. And I think they are views and aspirations that are shared in common by the president — by President Bush and by the British prime minister, Tony Blair."

Some 2,000 Australian troops and special forces are in Iraq as part of the 250,000-strong coalition force that is fighting to topple Saddam and rid Iraq of suspected weapons of mass destruction. The fighting has been intense and there have been several coalition casualties.

Although Australia has not had any, Paul Moran, an Australian cameraman was killed by a car bomb. Howard said the car bomb proved the connection between Saddam and groups linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network.

"It's almost certainly the case that it was the work of a suicide bomber of an organization associated with al-Qaida that has, at the very least, been accommodated by elements of the Iraqi regime, that it was another demonstration of the willful behavior of international terrorists and how they target people without any regard for even life, including their own," he told CNN.

In other developments Friday, the head of Australia's defense force denied the coalition made a strategic error in the number of troops it used in initial attacks on Iraq.

"I mean you look at the marvelous rapidity of the campaign to date and the relatively small loss of life on all three sides," Gen. Peter Cosgrove told Sky TV. "And by that I mean coalition forces and Iraqi military forces, and even though tragically some civilians have been killed, the civilian toll has been kept much lower."

Cosgrove said though Australians were involved in air support missions near Baghdad, it was unlikely they will play a major role in the next stage of the assault on the capital.

"But you look at the style of the forces we've sent, and the sort of big armored clashes that are possible in the next phase of the ground war are not really those for which any of our forces in the Gulf are optimized," he said.

Australian Defense spokesman Brigadier Mike Hannan said Friday the country's FA-18s were sent overnight to attack a number of Iraqi military targets. The raids passed without incident, he said.

Australian divers are working in the port of Umm Qasr to seek mines that are delaying the delivery of aid to the strategic town that is now under coalition control.

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