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Iraqis a kind and generous people despite hardships, local ex-army major says


25 May 2004
Despite all the Iraqis had been through and the worsening security situation they were a friendly and generous people, said a retired army major who works as a security consultant in trouble spots around the world such as Iraq and Afghanistan while studying at Southern Cross University (SCU).

Peter King, 51, who is in his final year of a Science/Law degree at SCU, recently returned from three weeks in Iraq where he was part of a multi-national team working for the Iraqi Minister for Transport to assist with handover of Bagdad airport to the Iraqis.

“Iraq’s infrastructure, such as power stations, water supplies, bridges and roads, is collapsing after 30-odd years of neglect under Saddam Hussein’s rule, coupled with some war damage,” Mr King said.

“The people have obviously suffered considerably over all this but they’re a lovely people, well-educated, intelligent, very kind and generous," he said. “They’re very good to work with, and very keen on getting their country up to where it should be.”

In Iraq Mr King was part of a team drawn from various backgrounds - mostly military - including specialists in internal airport security, such as baggage handling and passenger screening, and external security and airport perimeter defence (his area).

“We were trying to have the airport secure and operational for civilian travellers and cargo to go through by May 15, with the final handover back to the Iraqis on June 30, but the rapid deterioration in the security situation meant that was delayed,” he said.

“The operation was meant to take four weeks but that was shortened to two, which meant we were working 16-hour days to try and get the job done.

“The May 15 deadline was put back to June 30 and I’ll probably be going back after my final year law exams in mid-June to see if we can provide any more assistance. We’ll also be looking at the airports at Mosul, Basra and the sea port of Umm Qasr, all in line with trying to get Iraq back up as a country with its own government.”

Mr King, from Goonellabah, has been employed part-time as a security consultant for various companies working with the authorities - such as the United Nations, or a coalition of nations as in Iraq - in various trouble spots or ‘failed states’ around the world since 1993. He also works for companies providing security for non-government organisations and private companies, to help them set up offices and ensure the safety of their personnel. He began studying part-time at SCU in 1994.

“We provide an appreciation of the security situation, and what can be done to mitigate that risk and to reduce the risk to passengers,” Mr King said.

At the time of his visit the situation in Iraq had become far less safe than it was a few months ago, he said.

“The sad thing is we should be winding down now as we get closer to the Iraqis taking over and setting up their own government, but in fact the situation’s getting worse.

“There are a lot of power struggles going on within the country to gain ascendency prior to the Iraqis being given control. We try to keep a distance from all that (and the military occupation). I don’t think I’ve ever run into anyone that’s resentful of us.”

While Mr King said he was well remunerated for his consultancy work and usually well protected, he also felt the work was worthwhile.

“It’s a very satisfying thing to do, trying to help people who are so desperately worse off than we are in this country,” he said.

“I always come back to Australia and I wonder if this is quite reality, or if this is how everybody is meant to live. I’m hoping this is how everybody is meant to live, but it's going to take a long time for a lot of other countries to get anywhere near us.

“We’re very lucky. I think that a lot of us take this place for granted. We talk about lots of human rights issues in Australia and yes they are important, but they are infinitesimal compared to what a lot of people live under. Many people in the world are still shockingly deprived of any sort of rights. Our level of freedom is just unbelievable.”

After his next job in Iraq, Mr King hopes to return to Afghanistan to do more work.

Once he completes his double degree in June, he hopes also to do voluntary work in community legal centres in the NSW Northern Rivers, and perhaps get involved with Dr Anne Graham’s Centre for Children and Young People at SCU as a rights advocate.

“I’d like to become involved with children’s rights because the people that I see who are the most hard done by overseas are always the women and kids. They’re the ones that suffer the most.”

Mr King, who is married with two step daughters and two granddaughters, also plans to buy a house in Ballina in five years, retire from his consultancy work and go fishing.

For more information contact SCU Media Liaison, Sara Crowe Ph: 6620 3144, or Nigel Tapp Ph: 6620 3039.