In response to Barack Obama's proposed withdrawal of US troops from Iraq:
"I think that will just encourage those who want to completely destabilise and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and a victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for an Obama victory" ^^ JOHN HOWARD, February 13 2007
In response to Tony Blair's significant pullout of British forces from Iraq:
"A reduction has been in the wind and the reason I understand Mr Blair will give is that conditions have stabilised in Basra. I don't think it follows that there should be a reduction in our 550. I mean you have got to maintain a critical mass" ^^ JOHN HOWARD, February 21 2007
The Sydney Morning Herald -- Thursday February 22, 2007
Out of step: now Howard backs Britain's pullout from Iraq
Phillip Coorey, Cynthia Banham and agencies
AFTER warning that any withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraq would create catastrophe, embolden terrorists and increase the bloodshed, the Howard Government has described a significant pullout of British forces as "good sense".
The Prime Minister, John Howard, rejected suggestions yesterday that his policy of staying the course in Iraq was at odds with the withdrawal his British counterpart, Tony Blair, announced last night.
"The actual reduction in forces would be from the present 7100 - itself down from over 9000 two years ago and 40,000 at the time of the conflict - to roughly 5500," Mr Blair told the House of Commons. The troops would be withdrawn "in coming months".
Mr Blair, who said he welcomed Australia's continued involvement in Iraq, said the British military presence would continue into next year "for as long as we are wanted and have a job to do".
One British newspaper speculated earlier that the rest of the British troops in Iraq would return by the end of next year. The Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, also announced last night that all 470 Danish ground troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by August and replaced with a small helicopter unit.
The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, said the British pullout was a reduction, not a withdrawal. "It makes good sense," he said. "What we are all trying to do is increasingly transfer responsibility for security to the Iraqi security forces."
Mr Downer said Australia and Britain had an identical strategy in Iraq, which was to withdraw when the conditions suited, whereas Labor's strategy was time-based. "It's a perfectly natural reduction in their numbers," he said.
The British move raises concerns about the safety of Australia's 550 soldiers in southern Iraq who rely on the British for air, medical, artillery and other tactical support.
"It looks like there's a real chance our troops will be the last standing on the ground, possibly without the full support that they require," said Labor's foreign spokesman, Robert McClelland.
The Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, has been attacked by the Government for supporting a staged withdrawal of troops from Iraq as a means to pressure the Iraqis to sort out their own situation.
"My challenge to Mr Howard is: what is your alternative strategy?" Mr Rudd said. "What's your policy for winning this war and, in particular, what's your exit strategy for Australian troops? If the British have an exit strategy from Iraq … why doesn't Australia also have an exit strategy from Iraq?"
Mr Howard, who committed another 70 military advisers to Iraq this week, said he would not be reducing Australian numbers. He said he was aware "for some time" that the British were planning a withdrawal, but they would still have 10 times the number of personnel in southern Iraq as Australia.
"I don't think it follows from that that there should be a reduction in our 550. You have got to maintain a critical mass and to do the job according to our defence advice," he said.
The Government has long used Mr Blair's commitment to Iraq to brand the ALP as weak for wanting to "cut and run". But Mr Howard said yesterday that the US and British commitments were separate: "The Americans are responsible for the most violent and difficult part of the country. Anybody who studies Iraq for five minutes knows that controlling Baghdad is infinitely more challenging than controlling Basra."
The US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, said in Japan yesterday that the US would finish its mission in Iraq and "return with honour".
The PM'S words ...
'If governments start nominating dates by which forces are going to be withdrawn, what they are doing is inviting our enemies, inviting the terrorists in Iraq, to persist with the destabilisation and the mayhem and the bloodshed.' - JOHN HOWARD February 14
'A reduction has been in the wind and the reason I understand Mr Blair will give is that conditions have stabilised in Basra. I don't think it follows that there should be a reduction in our 550. I mean you have got to maintain a critical mass.' - MR HOWARD yesterday