Australia might have troops in Iraq but
the Iraq war has not been one of John Howard’s barbecue stoppers. Even the
discovery that there were no weapons of mass destruction to discover did not
rate in the opinion polls. The popularity of President George W Bush might have
plummeted and Prime Minister Tony Blair’s might be at a record low but John
Howard has sailed serenely on, unaffected by a war that cannot be won. Until the
arrival, or should I say non-arrival, of Private Jacob Kovco.

Due to a bungle that’s being blamed on private contractors, Private Kovco still lies in a Kuwaiti mortuary, awaiting
delivery to his grieving family in Victoria. Our defence
department has turned a personal tragedy into an event that will finally make
Iraq a top of the mind issue in this country. And coming as it does, on the back of the
continuing exposure of the corrupt way in which money was sent to the enemy in the
months before sending the troops in, Private Kovco will become a symbol for many of
why Australia should not be in Iraq.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson did his best this
morning to limit the damage. On AMhe did the only thing he could under the
circumstances. He grovelled. And explained how manfully Mr Howard had talked
with the dead soldier’s angry wife during a late night phone call. What he could
not do is explain how this terrible balls-up of sending the wrong body to
Australia could possibly have occurred.