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In Australia, President Bush finds staunch support for Iraq effort in Prime Minister Howard

Howard said he had no plans to reduce his country's 1,500-strong troop presence in Iraq.

By / September 5, 2007



Facing increasing criticism for the Iraq war at home and abroad, US President George W. Bush found an exception in the company of Australia's Prime Minister John Howard. The Australian leader announced Wednesday that he would not reduce his country's troop levels in Iraq. Australia has about 1,500 troops in Iraq, with about one-third of those in combat roles. Still, both countries may see changes in their roles after the US commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, gives his Iraq progress report to Congress next week.

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Speaking to reporters, Prime Minister Howard pledged to President Bush that his government had no plans to scale back Australia's military forces in Iraq within the near future. The Australian prime minister also said that he and Bush have been closely aligned in the war on terror since their first meeting on Sept. 10, 2001, a day before the terrorist attacks rocked New York City and Washington, D.C., reports The Sydney Morning Herald.

"As a consequence of that meeting and the horrific events that horrifically followed the [next] day, the paths of our two countries have been parallel in so many ways in the fight against terrorism and the promotion of democracy and freedom around the world," Mr Howard said.
"In our discussions I made it very clear to the President that our commitment to Iraq remains," he said. "Australian forces will remain at their present levels in Iraq, not based on any calendar but based on conditions on the ground. Until we are satisfied that a further contribution to ensuring that the Iraqis can look after themselves cannot usefully be made by the Australian forces, they will not be reduced or withdrawn."

Howard's ringing endorsement of Bush and the Iraq mission is a rarity among foreign leaders, even those who have openly supported the war, reports The New York Times. Most are content simply to accept the US president's public gratitude without further praising the cause.

Declaring that "our commitment to Iraq remains," Mr. Howard used language almost identical to that of Mr. Bush when he said troop withdrawals would be "not based on any calendar, but based on conditions on the ground."
But just as Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, paid a political price for supporting the war, so too has Mr. Howard, and his appearance with Mr. Bush will likely do him little political good as he fights a tough re-election challenge from Kevin Rudd, the Labor Party candidate and a staunch opponent of the war.
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