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Labor steps up attack over Iraq involvement -

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Labor steps up attack over Iraq involvement

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

KERRY O'BRIEN: Welcome to the program, and coming up shortly, comedian film maker Mick Molloy and
whether he can do for boy bands what he did for lawn bowls with his first film, "Crackerjack". But
first, Australian troops have been in Iraq now for more than three years and while political debate
has always swirled around their presence there, it's suddenly becoming much more strident. Tempers
frayed in Parliament today as the Opposition accused the Government of making Australia a bigger
terrorist target while the Government called Labor weak, morally bankrupt and lacking in guts. The
renewed Labor attack follows recent concessions from some senior military figures at home and in
the UK that the conflict is fueling global terrorism, while John Howard's close political friend
and ally President George W Bush has suffered serious domestic damage on the issue in the lead-up
to next month's Congressional elections. Interestingly, the Prime Minister has acknowledged to his
party room that Labor's attack should not be taken lightly. Michael Brissenden reports.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: The Labor Party is guilty of pursuing a policy which would lead to a victory for
terrorists. The Labor Party is guilty of wanting to keep in place Saddam Hussein's regime.

SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The member for Griffith, on a point of order.

KEVIN RUDD: Yes, Mr Speaker, will you ask Saddam's biggest bagman to return to the question?

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: You might have to pinch yourself but no, this is not 2004 or 2005, this is
today. Yes, three and a half years on, political argument over Iraq is still raging and in fact
these days it's raging harder than ever. For the past two days the Labor Party has gone in hard on

KIM BEAZLEY: My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, why did you take Australia into
a war when you knew it would make Australians a bigger terror target?

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Yesterday, on a day consumed for the most part by drought relief and climate
change, Labor devoted most of its question time attack to Iraq and the attack continued today. The
Opposition here has no doubt been emboldened by polls like the one from the Lowy Institute that
showed public opinion had become deeply sceptical of the war. Eighty-four per cent of respondents
felt the threat of terrorism has not been reduced and in a Nielsen Poll, six out of 10 thought
Australian troops should be withdrawn and then there's comments like these from Britain's top
military man, Sir Richard Dannatt, who told London's Daily Mail last week that British troops
should get out some time soon because their presence exacerbates the security problems: "I don't
say that the difficulties we are experiencing around the world are caused by our presence in Iraq,
but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them." And our own former CDF Peter Cosgrove sold
the Sunday Telegraph on the weekend "the Iraq war has boosted global terrorism". But it's in the US
where the tide is beginning to shift. The Republicans are expecting a considerable electoral
backlash in the mid-term Congressional elections. Public anxiety is growing, fed by an ever
increasing casualty list and some devastating critiques of the Government's handling of the war,
particularly that of Bob Woodward, who in his latest book on the Bush presidency claims the
President and his senior officials deliberately misled the US and the world on Iraq.

BOB WOODWARD: Well, it's consumed this Administration. We are fighting a war that has only gotten
worse. The strategy was we would stand down, bring troops home when the Iraqi military and police
stood up. Well, there are 300,000 now and we've been increasing and the violence goes up. Look, the
alternative title for this book was "Crisis" and the real alternative title was "Nightmare". That's
what it's become.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Bush Administration is clearly worried. Senior Republicans are now urging
the President to change course. Concessions like this are a new political phenomenon.

GEORGE W BUSH: If the plan is now not working, the plan in place isn't working, America needs to
adjust, I completely agree.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: This morning Prime Minister Howard conceded that his Government's position was
vulnerable as well. It's important how the Government deals with Labor's attack on Iraq and
Afghanistan, he told his joint party room today. It's important to focus on the fact that a
precipitative withdrawal from Iraq would boost terror worldwide. And in the Parliament, dealing
with Labor's attack became the order of the day.

KIM BEAZLEY: Guilty of taking Australia to the wrong war, guilty of making Australians a bigger
target for terrorist, guilty of constantly shifting the goalposts on our troops and guilty of
turning a blind eye while Australian money brought bullets fired on our troops.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I am guilty of standing up for the people of Iraq, the people who had the courage
to go out there and vote in those elections, the people who had the courage to put in place a
democratic government. Yes, Mr Speaker, I am a guilty man standing up for those people and I'm
guilty of helping to get rid of Saddam Hussein's evil regime. I'm guilty of that. A man who started
a war with his neighbours and killed a million people in that war, a man who slaughtered the

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Opposition has also taken to broadening its attack on the Government by
widening the consequences of the AWB kickback scandal. How far, Labor asked today, did the money

KIM BEAZLEY: Given Australia's anti terrorist financing law, has the Foreign Minister asked the
governments of Israel and Jordan to investigate whether money paid by AWB into Saddam Hussein's
bank account at the Rafidan bank in Oman was used by the Iraqi dictator to pay the families of
Palestinian suicide bombers?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, Mr Speaker, I will tell the House one thing. I will tell the House one
thing, Mr Speaker, from March 2003 Saddam Hussein wasn't paying any money into any account
anywhere. Saddam Hussein was overthrown and there was no risk after March 2003 of Saddam Hussein
funding terrorists. I do know, if the Leader of the Opposition's policy had remained in place,
Saddam Hussein would still be funding terrorism and you would have that on your conscience.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Three years on, the Government's defence of the Iraq war is much the same but
politically the ground has shifted considerably. The political legacies of both George Bush and
Tony Blair will be judged substantially on Iraq. The war has never had the same resonance here or
the same political impact on John Howard's administration, but Labor is now clearly of the view
that Iraq is becoming a real political weakness and a policy position that's becoming harder and
harder to defend. The Government will obviously continue to do just that but our election is still
12 months away and no one knows for sure how Iraq will look by then.