CANBERRA, Australia, April 2 (UPI) — Australia Wednesday accused Iraq of using historic sites to hide its weapons and Prime Minister John Howard continued to defend the length of the war, as anti-war protests in Sydney led to one arrest.

Australian Defense Force spokesman Brig. Mike Hannan said Iraq was using historic sites, such as the Ctesiphon, to hide its weapons. According to Hannan, Iraqi vehicles were parked in strategic places at the site, which is protected under The Hague Convention.

The ancient city — dated to the 2nd century BC — lies on the Tigris River, southeast of Baghdad. The Hague Convention protects the world’s cultural and heritage sites.

Hannan said the Iraqis were also using hospitals and humans for similar purposes.

“It is absolutely a tactic and I mean it reflects in all sorts of ways … the use of hospitals, the use of civilian shields, the use of troops dressed in civilian clothes and traveling in civilian vehicles and then mounting a surprise attack, this is all consistent behavior,” he said.

Australia’s 2,000-person military contingent is part of the U.S.-led coalition of 250,000 troops that are battling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in an attempt to unseat him and rid his country of suspected weapons of mass destruction.

Although support for the war has increased in the country, the length of the conflict — now almost two weeks old — has been criticized.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard defended the length of the war, however.

“I restate the objective now the operation has started and that is the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime,” he told group of Tasmanian business owners as a group of 60 anti-war protestors demonstrated outside. “Anything short of that would be unacceptable to the U.S., the U.K. and Australia.”

In Washington, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer had an unscheduled meeting with U.S. President Bush. The half-hour meeting touched upon the issues of Iraq and North Korea.

“(I) had a very lively and engaging discussion with him,” Downer said.

Bush and Downer also discussed the role of the United Nations in a post-Saddam Iraq. Both nations want the world body to have a liaison position in Iraq rather than running the interim administration.

He said the switch to a government run by Iraqis will not be immediate.

“It’s likely to come in on a gradual basis, that is portfolios or policy areas which are less contentious to be taken over by Iraqis very quickly, through to security policy and so on to be taken over more slowly,” he said.

The opposition Labor Party said, however, an interim U.N. administration is needed for Iraq to get back on its feet.

“I don’t think there’s any alternative other than to go through an interim U.N. administration because the neutrality of that administration would be central in politically stabilizing a democratic outcome for Iraq,” Labor’s Kevin Rudd said.

Some 300 people who are against the war in Iraq gathered at the Sydney Town Hall Wednesday for anti-war protests organized by the Books not Bombs coalition and at least one person was arrested.

Protests last week turned violent and the police had warned of arrests if the demonstrators attempted to march Wednesday. The arrested youth was involved in protests last week and police identified him using video footage.

“Schoolchildren in uniforms, groups of young men and older protesters have gathered on one side of Town Hall while at least 200 police have gathered around the area,” the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Downer and Bush also discussed a possible Australian role in Iraq once Saddam was deposed. Downer said Australia has experience working with the Iraqis on wheat trade, dry land farming and irrigation.

“This is the niche Australia very neatly fits into and so during my visit here we’ve been talking to the Americans about different ways that Australia can slot into that area,” he said.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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