PM to send more troops to Iraq

February 22nd, 2005  

Topic: PM to send more troops to Iraq

PM to send more troops to Iraq

February 22, 2005

AUSTRALIA will send a new 450-strong military taskforce to Iraq to help with the rebuilding process in the war-torn country, Prime Minister John Howard said today.

Mr Howard said the taskforce would work alongside Japanese forces rebuilding roads and schools in southern Iraq.
The taskforce will also help train Iraqi security forces.

Mr Howard said the rebuilding process was even more essential following the elections in Iraq last month.

"The government believes that Iraq is very much at a tilting point and it's very important that the opportunity of democracy, not only in Iraq, but also in other parts of the Middle East be seized and consolidated," he told reporters.

The 450-strong cavalry, infantry and training team will be based in Al Muthanna province in southern Iraq and will have 40 ASLAV armoured vehicles.

"The first (task) will be to provide a secure environment for the Japanese engineering and support forces which are making a valuable humanitarian contribution to the rebuilding process," Mr Howard said.

"The task group will also be involved importantly in the further training of Iraqi security forces.

"That training is essential to the Iraqis in the future being able to take over the internal and external defence of their country."

The great bulk of the troops would be drawn from the Darwin first brigade, Mr Howard said.

Mr Howard said the contribution had been requested by the Japanese government.

"There have been discussions between the Australian government, the British government bearing in mind the United Kingdom forces have overall security responsibility for the Al Muthanna province and the Japanese government over recent weeks," Mr Howard said.

"The prime minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi, telephoned me last Friday night and amongst other things invited and requested this Australian contribution.

"Likewise the British prime minister Mr Blair telephoned me in Auckland yesterday morning to confirm the request that had previously been conveyed by both (UK foreign minister) Jack Straw to Alexander Downer and (UK defence minister) Geoffrey Hoon to Robert Hill the defence minister."

Mr Howard said the trigger for today's announcement was the recent decision by The Netherlands to withdraw its 1,400 troops which had been active in the area over the past two years.

"They, I think, had one rollover of those forces but decided for their own reasons not to further renew," Mr Howard said.

"The view was therefore taken that unless additional security could be provided to replace the Dutch, then there was a real possibility that the Japanese would no longer remain there.

"And that would have been a very serious blow to the coalition effort."

Mr Howard said there would be two troop deployments, each spending six months in Iraq.

The move would be reviewed after six months to see if the extra Australian troops were still required for a full year, he said.

Mr Howard said he knew the decision to send extra Australian troops to Iraq would be unpopular.

"I know it will be unpopular with many people," he said.

"I ask those people to take into account the reasons that I have given.

"I believe this is the right decision. It will make a significant contribution to the coalition effort.

"It will make a significant contribution to the rebuilding of Iraq."

Mr Howard said Australia's decision to send extra troops had been endorsed by the interim Iraqi government.

Mr Howard conceded there was a risk of casualties but said the province was relatively safe.

"Any military deployment involves a risk of casualties I do not run away from that and I openly acknowledge that possibility," he said.

However, Al Muthanna province had a small population and had been largely free of violence.

"The security position in this part of Iraq is plainly different from the security position ... in other areas of Iraq such as the Sunni triangle."

Mr Howard said there had been a change in the outlook for Iraq since the country's election.

"There is a real opportunity if the moment can be seized for not only Iraq over time and through great difficulty to have democracy but also the rest of the Middle East," he said.

The Australian deployment, Mr Howard said, was also important because it involved working alongside regional partner Japan.

There were two deaths and a number of injuries among the troops the Australian deployment would be replacing, he said.

Both American and British military leaders had expressed a desire for a greater Australian contribution, Mr Howard said, but a formal request had not been made by United States President George Bush.

"There would have been exchanges about it at what I might call a State Department, Pentagon and Defence level," he said.

"I did not receive a request from President Bush when he spoke to me last Friday fortnight."

Mr Howard said Australia's relationship with Japan was crucial to the decision.

"The Japanese element of this is quite crucial because Japan is a major regional partner of Australia," he said.

"The Japanese presence in Iraq as part of the coalition operation, albeit of the humanitarian kind, is a very important one and if it were to disappear then I think that would, both in substance and in symbolism, be a very bad thing."

Mr Howard would not rule out a further increase in the number of Australian troops involved in Iraq if circumstances changed again.

"All I can say in answer to that is that we will keep the level and nature of our involvement under continual review," Mr Howard said.

Mr Howard said a current training deployment of some 50 personnel in northern Iraq would join the program announced today, reducing the number of new troops required to around 400.

Al Muthanna province was less dangerous than areas around Baghdad and Iraq's north, Mr Howard said.

"It's remained relatively benign," he said.

"It's a lot better and this is a much safer part of Iraq than the Sunni triangle."

Mr Howard said the decision to send extra troops to Iraq could cost up to $300 million a year.

"Of course it will require more funding," he said.

"You're looking at least $250 to $300 million on an annual basis."


February 22nd, 2005  
pull troops out of one country to put them in another..
February 23rd, 2005  
A Can of Man
Iraq is going somewhere. And Iraq's something that's already happened. The longer they stayed in Aceh, the bigger the chances of combat action taking place. They wanted to avoid that.
Smart in my opinion.