Australia’s Iraq role a key difference

The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, has used the letter from the Acting Prime Minister of Iraq, Barham Salih, to criticise Labor’s plan to withdraw Australian troops by Christmas.

“The acting Prime Minister of Iraq has made it very clear that he very much wants Australian forces to remain in Iraq.

“And I think he makes the very significant point that a draw down of Australian forces in the near term could have serious consequences for Iraq and the international community.”

But the Opposition’s defence spokesman, Kim Beazley, says Labor’s plan to bring most Australian troops home from Iraq by Christmas would not signal the end of Australian assistance to that country.

Mr Beazley says Labor remains committed to its Christmas deadline, and will stand firm if Iraq requests the extended presence of Australian troops.

He says Labor would also assist the work of the United Nations, and continue long-standing maritime surveillance aimed at protecting Iraq’s main export, oil.

“A decent amount of assistance to the United Nations, to make them effective there, and on top of that, a maintenance of our long-standing role in maritime surveillance and security at the head of the Gulf with the P3s and destroyers – we’d keep those there.”

Questions about Australia’s ongoing involvement in Iraq have arisen again after Poland revealed it’s considering withdrawing troops by late 2005.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, says Poland’s decision to withdraw does not affect his government’s position on Iraq.

“What Poland does is a matter for Poland.

“I’m the prime minister of Australia and my position is that our forces will stay there until they finish the job.

“I’m not setting any arbitrary deadlines for withdrawal.

“We will not cut and run.

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