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Iraq: ADF deployment to remain to train Iraqi soldiers.

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Thursday 22 June 2006

Iraq: ADF deployment to remain to train Iraqi soldiers


MARK COLVIN: The Prime Minister has admitted the new mission of Australia's troops in Iraq cou ld expose them to far more danger. 


In a formal statement to Parliament, Mr Howard confirmed that Australian soldiers would be staying on, even though the Japanese soldiers they've been protecting would be out of Iraq by the end of next month. 


Much of the Australians' work will continue to involve training Iraqi forces, but they could also be called on to provide military back-up if Iraqi soldiers find themselves in a crisis. 


The Opposition leader Kim Beazley insists that shouldn't be Australia's job and the soldiers should be brought home immediately. 


From Canberra Gillian Bradford reports. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: Of this next mission in Iraq there's one thing on which the Prime Minister and Opposition leader agree.  


KIM BEAZLEY: It is substantially more dangerous than where they were.  


GILLIAN BRADFORD: From their current base at Camp Smitty in southern Iraq, the Australians will soon be packing up and moving another 80 kilometres south east to Tallil where there's a major US air base.  


But that will only be a base. The Australians will mainly be working in the neighbouring Al Muthanna province, the first region to move back to Iraqi control. 


JOHN HOWARD: Helping Iraq to achieve stability and democracy is in Australia's national interest and it is part of Australia accepting her global responsibilities. Our support is at the request of Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: There'll be two distinct roles for Australia's troops. The first will be training and mentoring Iraqi troops and helping with reconstruction. The second task is decidedly more dangerous. If the Iraqis find themselves in a crisis in Al Muthanna, Australia may be called upon to provide backup. 


JOHN HOWARD: This could involve the ADF providing support in areas such as communications, command and control, intelligence and surveillance, and in extreme cases through direct military action. 


The intelligence assessments available to Government indicate that the areas in which the ADF will be operating in its new role, have among the lowest threat levels in comparison to rest of Iraq. That said, Mr Speaker, the ADF's new role will be higher risk. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: Regardless of the resources the troops have the Opposition thinks Iraq is no place for Australian soldiers. 


KIM BEAZLEY: Mr Speaker, we should never have gone to Iraq in the first place 


(Hear, hear)  


And we should not be there now. Iraq is a quagmire and staying there, Mr Speaker, is not in our national interest. Make no mistake about it, Mr Speaker, we are opposed to the war in Iraq. We want these troops in Al Muthanna province home now as the Japanese withdraw. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: The Opposition has always seen Afghanistan as the important front to fight terrorism.  


Today the Prime Minister took issue with that position. 


JOHN HOWARD: To say that we should fight against the terrorists in Afghanistan but to walk away from the struggle in Iraq is simply illogical. If countries such as the United States or Great Britain or Australia were to follow such logic it would be nothing less than a disastrous defeat for the cause of freedom and the values we hold dear.  


KIM BEAZLEY: This has been a bad war for the United States and its allies. It has sucked the oxygen out of US foreign policy all over the world.  


The war has made Iran stronger in the Gulf region. The war has made it impossible for the United States to deal with Iran or Syria effectively. The war has increased the prestige of the arch-criminal, Osama Bin Laden, everywhere in the Arab and Islamic world.  


And worst of all, this war has made it harder, not easier, to fight international terrorist networks all over the world.  


GILLIAN BRADFORD: While the Defence Minister hinted yesterday the Government might reconsider Australia's involvement in Iraq at the end of the year, the Prime Minister stayed well away of suggesting the troops could be home by Christmas. 


JOHN HOWARD: Australia will not be hostage to a particular timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. We will only leave when job has been finished. 


(Hear, hear)  


MARK COLVIN: The Prime Minister John Howard ending Gillian Bradford's report.