Saving Private Kovco … from further indignity

Iraq Coffin
The debacle over poor Private Kovco, our first troop fatality, just keeps getting more ridiculous. To summarise, we don’t know why he died, where the body is, whose body we do have instead, or when the right one is coming back. “It seems to be a series of things,” Defence Minister Brendon Nelson said. Now there’s an understatement.

First there was the accidental death. But then they shipped the wrong body back to Australia, meaning that a military service due for today had to be cancelled. Instead, it seems we’ve obtained the remains of some miscellaneous Bosnian.
What, do they not label them or something? Shouldn’t it have been draped in an Australian flag at all times? You can’t help but thinkFedEx wouldn’t have stuffed it up like this.

Then it emerged the initial explanation for his death – that he was cleaning his gun – was wrong. It had always sounded fishy – he was a weapons expert, an elite sniper who’d used guns all his life. And although I’ve never handled one, even I would not be so dumb as to try cleaning a gun when it’s loaded.

Brendan Nelson wasn’t able to explain how he actually died on radio today, but promised it wouldn’t be covered up. How reassuring.

All he could tell us is “It was near him in his vicinity and he made some kind of movement which suggests that it discharged.” If you can make any sense of that, please explain it for the rest of us who are unable to decode bureaucratese. Sure, he made a movement that would indicate it had discharged. It’s called being shot. But why? And how?

Now, the Herald reports that a public holiday in Kuwait may cause additional delays – a combination of hopelessness by the contractors (there’s that famed efficiency of the private sector again) and a Muslim public holiday. Farcical.

In an attempt to avoid even further embarrassment, John Howard has offered to send his private plane to retrieve the casket, but Mrs Kovco has understandably turned down this sort of VIP fuss.

Even more surprising than all these stuff-ups, though, is that a fatality hasn’t happened sooner. The US has lost well over a thousand troops since the war began, so for Australia’s military to have avoided any for three years really is remarkable.
More than that, their survival for so long in the maelstrom of random death that is Operation Iraqi F**k-up begs the question of what our troops have actually been doing.
Have they somehow found the bit of Iraq where the rightfully dissatisfied locals express their anger not by blowing people up, but writing scathing letters to the editor?

I’ve always had the impression that our limited troop presence was brilliantly designed to avoid fatalities, as if Howard had struck a deal with the White House.
We seem to have only sent a combination of logistical support and hardarse Special Forces troops who were so well-trained and sported such fancy gear that none of them got killed. A clever bit of negotiation.

So if we have very few troops and they’re largely out of harm’s way, why are they there? It’s about politics, of course. Primarily it’s about the US being able to call everything “Coalition”, rather than “American”. It’s a fig-leaf to hide the unilateralism of the decision. In that sense, even a single Aussie troop whose only job was to get maggered in the finest pub in Basra would be invaluable to the Americans.

Since this whole caper was their idea, they’re the ones who’ve had to carry the heavy lifting and all the casualties. And it’s Bush who’s being hammered in the polls. (Well, Howard’s being hammered over AWB, but that’s an entirely separate Iraq-based disaster.) Seems fair enough.

Except for poor Private Kovco and his family, of course. Let’s hope they understand how important it was that Australia participate in an ill-conceived war in a country on the other side of the world which had no bearing whatsoever on Australia’s national security.

The thing is, our commitment in Iraq is actually essential for Australia’s security. Not because of any threat from Saddam’s regime, of course – even Tony Blair surely doesn’t believe all that WMD bollocks anymore. But our nation’s self-defence relies entirely on sucking up to America. That’s why we’re still in Iraq, and that, sadly, is why Private Kovco is coming home.
Well, once they find him.

Image supposedly of Pvt Kovco’s coffin supposedly en route to Kuwait. Supposedly.

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