Against the tide, John Howard shoulder-to-shoulder with his US master on "surge" plan for Iraq Print E-mail

Sydney Morning Herald -- January 11, 2007

PM backs more muscle for Iraq

John Howard expressed his support today for George Bush (Photo: AP).

Prime Minister John Howard says he supports US President George W Bush's announcement that he will send an extra 21,500 American troops to Iraq as a sensible and realistic option.

"The government supports the new approach outlined by President Bush," Mr Howard told reporters in Sydney shortly after the president's broadcast speech.

"It was a very clear, calm and, above all, a realistic speech, but he didn't underestimate the challenge, he admitted some mistakes have been made and made it very clear what is at stake."

Mr Howard said if the coalition forces were to pull out of Iraq, the fight against terrorism would be extremely difficult to win.

"An American or western defeat in Iraq would give an unbelievable boost to terrorism."

He said Mr Bush's announcement would have no impact on Australia's troops in Iraq and he had no plans on sending more forces.

"There is no direct implication for Australian forces in Iraq," Mr Howard said.

"We have an appropriately sized force and one that can be maintained."

While acknowledging the President admitted making mistakes, Mr Howard said it had been the right thing to do to send troops to Iraq.

"I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I certainly didn't make a mistake in supporting the coalition effort in Iraq," he said.

"If we go, the terrorists win; if we stay there, there's a reasonable prospect we can win.

"I never rule out sending more forces, but I don't see the need at this time."

He reiterated his stance that he would not make any predictions on when coalition forces would leave Iraq.

Labor foreign affairs spokesman Robert McClelland said the new strategy was a band-aid solution which could make it more dangerous for Australian troops.

He said he believed the strategy for Baghdad could just see the insurgent activity go elsewhere, including the south of Iraq where Australian forces are in Dhi Qar province.

"The reality is the whole political strategy of Bush is to try and reduce the number of casualties that are occurring in Baghdad," Mr McClelland said.

"He will use that hoped (for) reduction in casualties to say that Americans are winning the war.

"But, the reality is (it is) putting a band-aid patch over Baghdad and perhaps marginally reducing casualties for the period additional troops are there, (but) isn't going to solve the underlying problems.

"There is no strategy for dealing with an escalation in violence if it balloons out into other areas including where Australians are."