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08CANBERRA906 2008-09-12 07:54:00 SECRET Embassy Canberra
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1. (S/REL AUS) Australia welcomes the GOI's decision to limit
the coalition presence in Iraq after 2008 as evidence of
improving conditions and Iraqi willingness to take on greater
responsibility, and believes the decision will help free up
resources that can be devoted to Afghanistan. Two key issues
for the GOA regarding protections and authorities for its
defense force personnel post 2008 are: a) who would be
covered by a SOFA or other arrangement, and b) whether the
GOA would adopt the arrangement negotiated by the United
States or negotiate a separate bilateral agreement. In any
event, the GOA needs a formal invitation from the GOI and
wants the U.S. to urge Iraq to engage quickly with the five
countries it would like to remain post 2008 and to expedite
legal arrangments for their forces to reamin.
End summary.

2. (SBU) DCM, accompanied by poloff, delivered reftel
demarche points to David Ritchie, Deputy Secretary of the
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) on September

12. Ritchie was joined by Paul Robilliard, DFAT Assistant
Secretary for Afghanistan and Iraq. Ritchie indicated he had
been briefed on Secretary Gates' September 9 call to Defence
Minister Fitzgibbon, and Ambassador Crocker and Lt.Gen.
Lute's September 9 presentation in Washington to coalition
country ambassadors and defense attaches.



3. (S/REL AUS) Deputy Secretary Ritchie said the Government
of Iraq decision on a reduced coalition presence beyond 2008
was welcome news. It demonstrated the improved situation in
Iraq and showed the GOI wanted to stand on its own feet, he
commented. It was also a positive development in that a
reduced presence of coalition partners in Iraq freed up
resources for Afghanistan, he added. Ritchie said the
demarche was particularly timely as the National Security
Committee of Cabinet planned to meet on Monday, September 15,
to discuss Australia's presence in Iraq. The Cabinet had
previously examined legal requirements for its forces in Iraq
but was not yet aware of the GOI's latest decision on which
countries it wanted to remain in Iraq in 2009.



4. (S/REL AUS) Regarding protection and authorities for its
defense personnel post-2008, Ritchie identified two key

-- Who would be covered? While the GOI may want an
arrangment that covered the entire Australian presence as a
single package, the GOA needed clarity on the separate
elements of its presence. Would the protections cover only
Australian embedded personnel? Ritchie noted the briefing by
Ambassador Crocker and Lt.Gen. Lute suggested that the
U.S.-negotiated SOFA appeared to cover only troops on the
ground and embedded personnel. (Note: It was not clear
whether Ritchie intended to reflect the distinction made in
Qwhether Ritchie intended to reflect the distinction made in
the Australian military between third country deployments
(TCD), i.e., Australian forces attached to third country
units that are currently authorized by the GOA to engage in
combat operations with those units, and embedded personnel,
i.e., those Australian-based civilian and military personnel
seconded temporarily to work in headquarters or in other
support roles. Australian combat forces were completely
withdrawn by the end of June 2008.) There was also the
question of what protections were available for Australian
forces based in neighboring countries who operated in and
around Iraq, including GOA air and naval assets. Finally, it
was not clear if the security detachment at the Australian
Embassy in Baghdad would be covered by the arrangement, or
whether the detachment could be covered under regular
diplomatic arrangements, for example being accredited as
diplomatic staff.

-- Should Australia seek to extend the U.S. agreement to
cover its forces or negotiate a separate bilateral agreement?
Ritchie said DFAT's preference was for the GOA to adopt the
SOFA negotiated by the U.S. rather than enter into separate
negotiations. He expected that Foreign Minister Smith would
endorse that view. By contrast, he said, the Australian
Department of Defence, particularly Chief of the Defence
Force Angus Houston, may be inclined to insist on stronger
protections than what the U.S. has managed to secure, and to
have such protections further guaranteed by corresponding
Iraqi legislation. Ritchie suggested that, given Australia's
lack of leverage compared to the U.S. and the lengthy and
slow process needed to have protections and authorities for
GOA forces enshrined in Iraqi law, it was unlikely the GOA
would be able to negotiate a better bilateral arrangement
than the U.S. SOFA.




5. (S/REL AUS) Beyond the form and scope of a SOFA or other
arrangement, Ritchie said the GOA needed to hear from the
GOI, including, at a minimum, a formal invitation regarding
its post-2008 presence. In response to the DCM's offer for
U.S. assistance, Ritchie made two requests: a) a copy of the
U.S.-GOI SOFA as soon as possible; and b) early U.S.
encouragement for the GOI to engage the five countries and
expedite post-2008 arrangements with them.