Skip to comments.Aussie troops 'a target in Iraq'
Posted on 05/21/2007 9:22:36 PM PDT by MinorityRepublican
There is evidence that Australian troops were being specifically targeted in Iraq, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said yesterday.
The warning came as Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari pleaded in Canberra yesterday for Australia and other coalition forces not to "cut and run" from his country as it entered a crucial phase for its future.
Reports in Britain have tipped an announcement on British troop withdrawals within incoming prime minister Gordon Brown's first 100 days in office.
Australian soldiers have repeatedly come under fire from small-arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and increasingly sophisticated roadside bombs in recent weeks, with three men injured one badly enough to have to return home for treatment.
In the most serious incident near An Nasiriyah in late April, insurgents destroyed one light armoured vehicle and badly damaged another with a series of roadside bombs, and Australian troops repeatedly came under fire.
"There is some evidence that there is some targeting of our troops in southern Iraq and it is essentially because they are doing an excellent job," Dr Nelson said.
He said he had had lengthy conversations with his British counterpart, Des Browne, and although he did not expect "any significant change in relation to the deployment in Iraq", he did expect a further "draw down" of British forces soon.
"Over then next few months, if things are going reasonably well, you can expect the British will draw down again," he said.
"It is not my job to publicise what that is likely to be, but they will probably come down to just under 5000 or so [troops], and then as progress is made over the next period of time beyond that, the British may decide to draw down again, and that should be seen as progress being made in the south, not as some sort of decision that is made on an ad hoc basis."
This would be similar to recent draw downs from 7000 to 5500 British troops as provinces in southern Iraq were handed over to Iraqi forces.
Mr Zebari, in Canberra for talks with senior Australian ministers yesterday, said he hoped there would not be significant changes to British troop numbers in his country as a result of Mr Brown taking over as prime minister from Tony Blair.
"These times are critical periods for Iraq this coming month I think," he said.
"That's why we need our allies to stand with us during these difficult times and critical times."
"We all see pressures building up in Washington, in London, in Europe, here, but I think this is not the time to cut and run.
"I think this is the time to stand with the people who you helped to liberate and to assist."
Dr Nelson said Australia would stay the course in Iraq, partly because al-Qaeda saw it as crucial for its plans for Islamic jihad.
"If al-Qaeda sees Iraq, from Osama bin Laden down, as being so important to their global struggle, so too should we and countries that profess to have and hold the values that we have," he said.
About 550 Australian troops, stationed at Tallil air base in southern Iraq, provide security overwatch for Iraqi troops in Al Muthanna and Dhi Qar provinces and train Iraqi troops near Tallil.
"It is important that we get the Iraqis up to a position where they can not only walk, but they can run," he said.
"... So whilst it might suit a domestic political environment to set deadlines and to withdraw, we take each day, each week, each month at a time. We are making progress, but no one should underestimate not only the importance of the job, but also the risks that are involved."
Mr Zebari said Iraq had to learn how to maintain security because foreign troops would eventually leave.
"We cannot rely on foreign troops to protect us," he said. "I think we can defend ourselves provided and given the means and the tools to do so."
He would not be asking Australia to send more troops to his embattled country.
He said the United States "surge" was making progress in Baghdad but refused to give a timetable for restoring law and order, saying that would provoke further attacks by insurgents.
Labor foreign affairs spokesman Robert McClelland said he sympathised with Mr Zebari but the Opposition stood by its policy of withdrawing Australian troops from Iraq. "While it's entirely understandable that the Iraqis want us there indefinitely, the reality is that we can't and we should set some firm benchmarks for them to achieve and withdraw our troops in accordance with them meeting those benchmarks," he said.
He said the Iraq Government had to clamp down on militia activity which was rife within its security forces. 'They've got to step up to the plate with competently performing defence and security officers."
Pinging Aussie freepers
I guess they’re not fans of Howard like I am.
God Bless Australia