AP: Withdrawing troops from Iraq in circumstances of defeat would embolden extremists in Iran, Syria and Lebanon and destabilize the Middle East, Australia’s leader said Friday. Associated Press
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) – Withdrawing troops from Iraq in circumstances of defeat would embolden extremists in Iran, Syria and Lebanon and destabilize the Middle East, Australia’s leader said Friday.
A staunch U.S. ally, Prime Minister John Howard defied widespread public opposition to send 2,000 Australian troops to assist the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, and now maintains about 1,300 troops in and around Iraq.
He has repeatedly refused to answer calls from opposition lawmakers to set a deadline for the withdrawal of troops, saying Australia will remain in the Middle East until Iraqi security forces can secure the country.
This week, Howard’s Defense Minister Brendan Nelson reiterated that Australia would not set “any specific timeline” for removing troops after British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said she was confident that British soldiers could hand their duties over to Iraqi forces by spring.
British officials stressed the spring estimate was a hope, not a timetable. But Howard said it would be wrong for coalition forces to leave Iraq before the country had been stabilized.
“For us now to leave Iraq, for us now to precipitously withdrawal … that would have enormous and damaging consequences for the West and the Middle East,” Howard told Southern Cross radio Friday. “Think what instability would result in countries like Lebanon, think how emboldened Syria and Iran would be if America withdraws from Iraq in circumstances that looked like a defeat.”
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Thursday that Beckett’s comments reflected a general desire among coalition members to hand security control over to Iraqi forces as soon as possible.
“Nobody is saying we should colonize Iraq and stay in Iraq indefinitely,” he said. “Everybody agrees we’ve got to get out of Iraq.
That’s got to be done in a way which allows the Iraqi government to remain in place, rather than the place being taken over by insurgents and terrorists.”