Australia plans to withdraw troops from Iraq
Reuters, Published: Sunday, July 01, 2007
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister John Howard is secretly planning to begin withdrawing Australian troops from Iraq by February 2008, Australian media reported on Sunday.
The Sunday Telegraph, quoting an unnamed senior military source, described Howard’s withdrawal plan as “one of the most closely guarded secrets in top levels of the bureaucracy.”
The Sunday Telegraph said the drawdown of troops would focus on soldiers based in southern Iraq on security duty with Iraqi soldiers.
Australia has about 1,500 soldiers, sailors and airmen in and around Iraq.
Howard, a close ally of President George W. Bush, has been a mainstay of support for the controversial United States military presence in Iraq.
As recently as last week Prime Minister Howard said there were no plans to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq, and has consistently said that Australian troops would remain in Iraq for as long as needed.
A spokesman for Howard on Sunday referred to Howard’s statement last week and told Reuters that he did not want to give credence to the Sunday Telegraph report.
Howard said last week that his government was not committed to a timetable over Australian troops in Iraq but was committed to an outcome driven by circumstances and events.
His withdrawal plan had yet to be put to U.S. President Bush or to the Australian Cabinet, the Sunday Telegraph said.
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