Thursday, February 24, 2005

Archival Rescue 10 ~ Iraq

Major General Alan Stretton says more troops just like Vietnam. PM says "well it won't" but is not "giving absolute guarantees" and Oz Foreign Minister tells Straw man to "send me a note".

PM hits back as general warns of disaster
February 24, 2005 - 12:39PM Sydney Morning Herald

Iraq would not become a bottomless pit for Australian troops, Prime Minister John Howard said today.

Major General Alan Stretton told John Laws Australia's involvement in Iraq would end in disaster just like Vietnam.

But on Perth radio, Mr Howard said he had made his reasons for sending an additional 450 troops to Iraq clear.

While he said he did not think it was likely any further troop deployments would be necessary, the prime minister could offer no guarantees.

"Well it won't become a bottomless pit," Mr Howard told 6PR. "I am just exercising proper caution."

"I don't think it is at all likely that we will send any more people but I am not going to get into this business of giving absolute guarantees and having everything I say on that analysed in the future.

"I am simply saying that we have had reasons to change our earlier view that we wouldn't send a significant number of additional troops and I have explained those reasons."

Mr Howard said it would be irresponsible to give a guarantee when he did not know what the future held for Iraq, even though the situation appeared to be improving.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he met Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on January 29 in London and discussed Australia's troop strength.

"It was clear from that discussion that the British wanted us to make a bigger contribution," Mr Downer told ABC Radio today.

"My response was of course to articulate what our policy was at that time, but at the end of the discussion I said 'Look, the best thing to do is to send me a note about it and I can discuss it with my colleagues when I get back to Australia'."

Mr Howard has said the British were initially told Australia was unlikely to support the request for more soldiers.

The Australian government's policy at the time was not to provide any significant increase in its troop numbers in Iraq.

Asked if he turned down a request for more soldiers, Mr Downer said: "It wasn't quite the nature of the discussion, really".

"The nature of the discussion was more, when it came to the issue of the troops, me explaining what our policy was and saying ... send me a letter about it, let me see what a specific proposal would look like and I'll take it up with my colleagues.

"I did speak to the prime minister about this either that evening or the next morning.

"I must say his response to sending any more troops was very negative, but of course this in the end is a matter for the national security committee of cabinet and the cabinet."

The government's position of not sending a significant number of extra troops to Iraq changed after the huge success of Iraq's election on January 30, Mr Downer said.

"We didn't really anticipate sending any more troops until, (it) would've been the following week and ... we sat down and we talked this issue through," he said.

"Particularly on the basis of the success of the elections and the Japanese angle to it, we could see that it might make some sense."

The United States played no part in the government's decision to send the troops.

"The Americans didn't ever ask me about it," Mr Downer said.

"No doubt they hoped we would send more troops but the Americans didn't ever make a request at the ministerial level."



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