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Australia doubles military commitment to Iraq

Reporter: Narda Gilmore

TONY JONES: After months of ruling out any further military contribution in Iraq, the Prime
Minister has announced a massive increase in troop numbers. Australia's new deployment will more
than double the current military commitment. The Opposition has accused the government of breaking
its election promise. From Canberra, Narda Gilmore reports.

NARDA GILMORE: The government's domestic agenda was put on hold this morning as Cabinet once again
turned its attention to Iraq.

JOHN HOWARD (PRIME MINISTER): The government has decided this morning to send a new Australian task
force to Iraq.

NARDA GILMORE: 450 troops, mainly from Darwin's 1st Brigade, and 40 ASLAV armoured vehicles will
soon be based in the Al-Muthanna province in southern Iraq. They'll stay for at least 12 months at
a cost of around $300 million. It doubles Australia's military presence.

JOHN HOWARD: This has not been, is not and will not be an easy decision for the government. I know
it will be unpopular with many.

NARDA GILMORE: In the lead-up to last year's election, John Howard repeatedly ruled out any
substantial increase in troop numbers.

JOHN HOWARD: We believe that our current commitment is appropriate and adequate and effective and
doing a good job, and we have no proposals to increase it.

NARDA GILMORE: Just last month at the World Economic Forum, Mr Howard received a formal letter of
request from Britain, but again ruled out significantly increasing Australia's presence in Iraq.

KIM BEAZLEY (OPPOSITION LEADER): There are many people in this country who will think that John
Howard should have levelled with them.

SENATOR BOB BROWN (GREENS LEADER): This is a breach of promise, effectively, and an outrageous
breach of trust with the Australian people.

NARDA GILMORE: But one of the country's most prominent defence analysts isn't surprised.

PROFESSOR HUGH WHITE (DEFENCE ANALYST): It always seemed to me that Howard's insistence that he
could manage down the level of Australia's commitment to Iraq flew in the face of the fact that
America badly needed allies.

NARDA GILMORE: The government acted after recent phone calls from both the British and Japanese
Prime Ministers. John Howard says circumstances have changed.

JOHN HOWARD: When I say Iraq is at a tipping point, I mean that if the right things are done with
enough commitment, I believe that you can have a very successful outcome in Iraq, but if the wrong
things are done and there is a crumbling of the coalition commitment, then I think you'll have the
wrong outcome. That's what I mean by Iraq being at a tipping point.

NARDA GILMORE: As well as training Iraqi security forces, Australia's new task force will replace
Dutch troops who've been guarding Japanese military engineers.

JOHN HOWARD: Unless additional security could be provided to replace the Dutch, then there was a
real possibility that the Japanese could no longer remain there, and that would've been a very
serious blow to the coalition effort.

NARDA GILMORE: The Prime Minister isn't ruling out a further commitment.

JOHN HOWARD: We will keep the level and nature of our involvement under continual review.

NARDA GILMORE: Hugh White predicts that the involvement will be a long one.

PROFESSOR HUGH WHITE: There will still be a long way to go before Iraq can look after its own
security, and my hunch is we'll be there for at least a couple of years, and it could be longer.

KIM BEAZLEY: I don't think we should be doing this; no, I do not.

NARDA GILMORE: Labor wants civil assistance to Iraq to be the priority, but the Prime Minister says
any weakening of the coalition presence there might be seen as a victory for the insurgents and
could bring the threat of terrorism closer to home.