Australia leader defends Iraq deployment

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has said Iraq will not become a bottomless pit for his country's troops.

    About 400 Australian troops are stationed in Iraq

    Howard on Thursday refused to rule out further increases to the Australian

    military presence in Iraq following this week's shock decision to

    more than double the number of troops on the ground, but

    said they were unlikely.

    "It won't become a bottomless pit," Howard told commercial

    radio. "I am just exercising proper caution.

    "I don't think it is at all likely that we will send any more

    people, but I am not going to get into this business of giving

    absolute guarantees and having everything I say on that analysed in

    the future," he said.

    Howard's comments followed his announcement on Tuesday that

    Australia would send another 450 troops to protect a Japanese

    humanitarian mission in southern Iraq and to help in the country's

    transition to democracy.

    The taskforce will leave in about 10 weeks to join 950 military

    personnel in the Gulf, about 400 of whom are stationed

    in Iraq.

    Another Vietnam

    Retired major-general Alan Stretton, the chief of staff of

    Australia's military forces in Vietnam from 1969 to 70, said the

    situation in Iraq was becoming increasingly similar to the conflict in

    the Southeast Asian nation.

    John Howard: Analogies with
    Vietnam are misplaced

    "I really believe it will go the same way as Vietnam," Stretton

    told commercial radio. "It will get no better, only worse.

    "Eventually public opinion in both the US and Australia and

    elsewhere will demand our troops come back and when they do they

    will be pretending that the locals can handle it all themselves, and

    we will just leave a bloody mess."

    Stretton said internal ethnic differences meant Iraq would never

    be democratic in the conventional sense and the political system

    could not be imposed on the population.

    "You have three different people in three virtually different

    areas. The most you could have would be some sort of loose

    confederation."

    Rejecting parallel

    Howard has rejected parallels between Iraq and Vietnam. 

    "I think these analogies with Vietnam are misplaced and many

    other people think they are too," he told ABC television late

    on Wednesday.

    "I accept the historical facts about Vietnam. I also know the

    historical facts about Iraq, and they are totally different

    situations."

    SOURCE: AFP


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