Australian Government rules out troop withdrawal
By Maria Hawthorne and Peter Veness
February 18, 2007 05:09pm
Article from: AAP
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THE Federal Government has ruled out bringing any Australian troops home from Iraq before this year's election.
Earlier today newspaper reports suggested Britian intended to halve its 7000-strong contingent in Iraq by May.
But Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia was not considering any withdrawal.
While it was possible that some individuals would return as their rotations finished, there would be no general withdrawal of the 1400 Australian troops this year, Mr Downer said.
"It's very unlikely that our troops will come back before the election - I'm certain they won't," Mr Downer said on Channel 9.
"The Iraqi security forces are absolutely nowhere near a point where they are able to maintain security in the country and maintain the regime in the country without the terrorists winning, and to do so without support from the international community, particularly the Americans."
Australia has military personnel in southern Iraq and also in Baghdad, where Australian bureaucrats need armed protection.
Labor's foreign affairs spokesman Robert McClelland said a staged withdrawal was the only way to pressure the Iraqi Government into reining in the sectarian warlords.
"It's quite frankly saying to the Iraqi administration, 'Look, you take charge or you lose power,' and that is the only thing that is going to shake them out of what has been, quite frankly, a disgraceful effort to try and bring security to their people," Mr McClelland said.
Meanwhile, Mr Downer accused Labor of hypocrisy after an Mr McClelland accused US President George W Bush of "atrociously" mishandling the Iraq war.
Last week, Labor attempted to censure Prime Minister John Howard for saying al-Qaeda would be praying that US Democrats presidential hopeful Barack Obama was elected.
Today, Mr McClelland was scathing about Mr Bush's handling of the war.
"They never planned, their planning was for finding and removing weapons of mass destruction, not for regime change as became the rhetoric, and certainly not for establishing a beacon of democracy in the Middle East," Mr McClelland said on ABC TV.
"All these things would have required a much different planning strategy.
"They have failed and they have failed abysmally, and our Prime Minister has not apologised for his role in that failure."
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Mr McClelland's crude criticism of the US president showed Labor was being hypocritical.
"As part of Labor's rolling commentary on the conduct of US policy in Iraq, a senior party frontbencher has resorted to gratuitous personal criticism of the elected president," Mr Downer said.
"This highlights Labor's deplorable double standards not only on Iraq but also in its attitudes towards the US alliance.
"If Mr Rudd had any semblance of principle, he would censure immediately his foreign affairs spokesman."
But Mr McClelland denied his criticism was in the same realm as Mr Howard's criticism of Senator Obama.