Iraq troops tenure is ‘wrong debate’

The Australian Democrats say the debate between the Federal Government and the Labor Party over when Australia’s troops should be withdrawn from Iraq is a distraction from the government’s responsibility to help to rebuild the country.

Prime Minister John Howard, who has just returned from a visit to Baghdad says enough money will be allocated in next month’s budget to keep Australian troops in Iraq until July next year, if necessary.

He has hinted more Australian troops could be deployed to Iraq despite previous statements that there was no intention to increase the level of Australia’s military commitment.

The Labor Party’s defence spokesman Chris Evans says Mr Howard, has allowed Australian troops to become stuck in IRAQ, requiring their presence for years instead of the months originally promised in a “symbolic” move.

But the national leader of the Democrats, Andrew Bartlett, says Australia should be concentrating on its reconstruction responsibility in Iraq.

“That shouldn’t distract us from the real issue which is what is in the best interests of the future of the Iraqi people.

“Frankly, whether or not a few hundred Australian troops come home now or are there until Christmas, or until the 30th of June next year it is not going to make a great deal of difference to the long term prospects of the people of Iraq.

“What Australia should be debating is what our commitment should be in terms of economic assistance and help with rebuilding the infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Greens, Bob Brown says Mr Howard putting his own political career ahead of the safety of Australian troops who should be returned.

“Prime Minister Howard had his return ticket home.

“He should have given one to the troops or at least have told them that they’d be coming home to be with their loved ones for Christmas.

“Instead of that, he’s allocating another $150,000,000 to keep the troops in Iraq until at least the end of next year and who knows how much longer.”

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