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Australia's combat role in Iraq ends.

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Monda y 2 June 2008

Australia's combat role in Iraq ends


MARK COLVIN: Five years, one month and 13 days after the Iraq War began, Australia's combat role there officially came to an end in the early hours of this morning. 


The 550 combat troops are expected back in Australia for a welcome home parade at the end of this month.  


The Prime Minister today gave "genuine" thanks that no Australian soldier had been killed in battle.  


Kevin Rudd marked the lowering of the Australian flag in Iraq by addressing Federal Parliament and by attacking the former government for taking the nation to war based on flawed intelligence.  


27 Australians were wounded over the combat period, which has come at a cost of $2.3-billion to the Australian taxpayer.  


From Canberra, Samantha Hawley reports.  


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Australia's combat role in Iraq is over. 


KEVIN RUDD: Mr Speaker, I rise to inform the House that Australian combat troops have lowered the flag at the conclusion of their mission in southern Iraq. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Before the beginning of Question Time, the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd rose to honour one of Labor’s key election commitments, to bring the troops home. 


KEVIN RUDD: We on this side of the House did not support the decision to go to war. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: For more than 20 minutes the Prime Minister argued the case for not only withdrawing Australian troops but for the Labor Party's long running stance against the initial commitment to the war in 2003. 


Back then, the Prime Minister John Howard argued the decision was right, legal and would protect Australia's national interest. Kevin Rudd says five years on he was clearly mistaken.  


KEVIN RUDD: Have further terrorist attacks being prevented? No, they have not been, as the victims of the Madrid train bombing were the test. Has any evidence of a link between weapons of mass destruction and the former Iraqi regime and terrorists been found? No. 


Have the actions of rogue states like Iran been moderated? No. After five years, has the humanitarian crisis in Iraq been removed? No it has not. Of most concern to this government was the manner in which the decision to go to war was made, the abuse of intelligence information, a failure to disclose to the Australian people the qualified nature of that intelligence, for example, the pre-war warning that an attack on Iraq would increase the terrorist threat, not decrease it. We now know the decision to go to war was based on flawed intelligence. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: But the Opposition leader, Brendan Nelson, has hit back, reminding Kevin Rudd that during his time as the Opposition’s foreign affairs spokesman he too was of the view that weapons of mass destruction did exists in Iraq.  


BRENDAN NELSON: Our now Prime Minister then foreign spokesmen for the then opposition in fact said on the 9th of September 2002, and I quote “I’ve said repeatedly that there is a significant threat of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq”. 


Only three weeks later to the State Zionist Council Annual Assembly on the 15th of October, 2002, he further said “Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. That is a matter of empirical fact”. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: In Fairfax newspapers today, John Howard speaks of the Iraq deployment as the hardest decision he made as the nation’s leader. 


He says he was influenced by his presence in Washington on September the 11th, 2001 and he has no regrets. His party continues to stand by him.  


BRENDAN NELSON: Our position, the Liberal and the National parties, in government and in opposition, remains the same. And that is in all of our deployments, we remain there until the job is done. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Dr Nelson says the Coalition may have also withdrawn troops at this time but would have replaced them with a training capability.  


The Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon says it's something the Government considered but senior ministers ultimately decided against.  


JOEL FITZGIBBON: The fact is that if you’re going to do training in-country, you do need force protection. We won’t be doing any in-country training because we made a clear commitment to the electorate that we’d be bringing our combat troops home. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Houston, says Australia's role in Iraq is complete.  


ANGUS HOUSTON: So do I feel a twinge of regret, a twinge of guilt? Not at all. I think frankly in our part of Iraq, southern Iraq, the mission is complete. 


SAMANTHA HAWLEY: About 100 troops will remain in the country to protect the Australian embassy in Baghdad while the navy will continue patrols of the Persian Gulf to protect the oil trade.  


The rest of the 550 troops will be back in Australia for a welcome home parade on June the 28th. The Prime Minister is expected to attend. 


KEVIN RUDD: Thankfully Mr Speaker, no Australian Defence Force personnel have been killed in action in Iraq since the commencement of the operations in 2003. We offer genuine thanks for that. I salute the men and women of the Australian Defence Force who once again have done this nation proud. 




KEVIN RUDD: Mr Speaker, we commend their service, their brave service to the House and to the nation. 




MARK COLVIN: The Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ending Samantha Hawley's