Australia: No more soldiers to Iraq

Australia has said it is not considering sending additional troops to Iraq despite escalating attacks on US-led occupation forces there.

    Australian troops combing al-Jadriya, a Baghdad suburb

    US military chiefs said this week they were considering sending additional troops to Iraq to deal with a widening revolt by armed followers of a Shia Muslim leader.

    Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Tuesday the Australian government was not considering a similar boost to its 850-strong military presence in Iraq - a deployment that has become a key issue in advance of national elections later this year.

    "I don't think that's an issue on our agenda," Downer said when asked about a possible new troop deployment.

    "The Americans have made no request, there has been no discussion about that," he said.

    Downer said US troops were responding "robustly" to an outburst of violence from militia followers of the anti-US Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr. "I think this is appropriate," he said.

    Downer suggested that the uprising could "blow up over a few days and it can die down or it may not," he said. "We just don't know, we'll have to wait and see."

    End of honeymoon

    The honeymoon for Australia's new opposition leader Mark Latham appeared to be ending, with an opinion poll showing a bruising debate over when to bring Australian troops home from Iraq had dented his popularity.

    There are 850 Australian
    soldiers in Iraq 

    A Newspoll poll found voter satisfaction with Latham - who has put a reinvigorated Labour in front of the conservative government in advance of an election expected later this year - dropped 14 percentage points to 52% during the past two weeks.

    This is the first time since Latham took over Labour's leadership four months ago that he has slipped in the polls, with the dynamic new leader winning strong voter support for his family-friendly policies and fresh approach to politics.

    But the Newspoll of 1137 people, published in The Australian, showed Labour ahead with 44% support against 40% to the government, although Prime Minister John Howard was the preferred prime minister with 48% against Latham's 37%. 

    "I don't think anybody in Labour took the honeymoon period, as it's now being referred to, poll results for granted," Labour spokeswoman Julia Gillard told Australian radio.

    "We've always known that we are the underdog going into the next election."

    Latham's popularity has been dented by his pledge to bring Australia's 850 troops home from Iraq by Christmas if his centre-left party wins power from the eight-year-old government, in an election widely expected in October or November.

    Wrong signal

    But Howard, a close US ally who sent 2000 military personnel to Iraq, accused Latham of sending the wrong signal to terror groups, letting down Australia's allies and the Iraqi people and called on him to reconsider his commitment.

    "Mr Latham was wrong about troop withdrawal from Iraq. It would be wrong whether the polls had gone up or down for him," Howard told reporters on Tuesday


    SOURCE: Agencies


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