Australians planning to become human shields in Iraq were foolish and may not be able to be evacuated if war broke out, a senior foreign affairs official said. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warned its ability to help any Australian civilian wanting to leave Iraq during military conflict was very limited.
“These people are, frankly, quite foolish for putting themselves in this position,” Rod Smith, assistant secretary of DFAT’s consular branch said in response to a question from Labor’s John Faulkner at a senate estimates committee.
“If there was an Australian there as a human shield, then presumably that person is intent on remaining when conflict begins … “If they change their mind and said ‘I’m sorry I made a terrible mistake, get me out’, we would obviously do what we could to get the individual out. “But it has to be understood that our ability to assist in those circumstances would be very, very limited and that is a point we need to reinforce.”
A former political adviser to the NSW government, Donna Mulhearn, has left Australia to join other so-called “human shields” opposed to any US-led invasion of Iraq. The human shield project has been organised by anti-war organisation Become the Change. Dozens of peace campaigners from Britain and the US plan to take part.
Mr Smith said he knew of press reports about one Australian who had left for Iraq as a human shield, but the individual had not registered with the department. Mr Smith said he had held general talks with his US and UK counterparts over the human shield project.
Australians currently in Iraq with the United Nations would be covered by UN evacuation plans in the event of military conflict, Mr Smith said.