Australia signals it will extend Iraq mission

December 9th, 2005  
Team Infidel

Topic: Australia signals it will extend Iraq mission

SYDNEY, Dec 9 (AFP) - Prime Minister John Howard has indicated Australia
will extend the deployment of its troops to Iraq to continue guarding
Japanese military engineers operating in the south of the country.

Japan announced on Thursday that it would keep its 600 troops in Iraq until
late next year, about a year longer than planned.

Australia has about 450 soldiers helping guard the Japanese contingent and
Howard said late Thursday that they would pursue their mission in line with
Japan's decision.

"We'll continue to work with our Japanese friends, we'll continue to provide
security," he said.

"It has been a good partnership between Australia and Japan. It's important
that Japan retains a presence in Iraq and we intend to be part of that
continuing presence," he said.

Howard has declined in the past to set a timetable for Australia's
deployment in Iraq, though the current rotation of troops was due to end in

The Australian leader said he would discuss details of the deployment with
his Japanese counterpart Junichiro Koizumi next week.

"As to the long-term details of that, that's a matter that I will in all
probability discuss with the Japanese prime minister Mr Koizumi in Kuala
Lumpur next week at the East Asian Summit," he said in a televised interview
late Thursday.

Howard has been one of US President George W Bush's strongest foreign allies
and contributed troops to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 despite strong
opposition to the move at home.

Australia sent extra troops to southern Iraq last year to protect Japanese
troops, who are barred from combat under a pacifist 1947 constitution
imposed after World War II by the United States.

The Japanese are carrying out humanitarian reconstruction work in Iraq's
relatively peaceful southern province of al-Muthanna.

The Australian troops are also training members of the Iraq security forces.

Howard welcomed Koizumi's decision to extend Japan's Iraq mission.

"I do welcome that decision by the Japanese government because I think that
now is a bad time for countries to be talking about pulling out of Iraq," he
said, noting that the decision comes shortly before elections for a new
Iraqi legislature.

"We're right on the eve of an election, I think that election is crucial to
the long-term future of Iraq," he said.

A defense spokesman for the opposition Labor Party, Robert McClelland,
criticised Howard's decision as a diversion of military resources away from
security priorities in Australia's home region.

"It also sends the message to the interim administration in Iraq that the
pressure is not on them," McClelland said on ABC radio.

"In other words the pressure is not on them to get their act in order and
take responsibility for their own security."