22/02/2005

Australia to send more troops to Iraq

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has announced plans to send more Australian troops to Iraq.

Speaking in Canberra today, Mr Howard announced that an extra 450 Australian troops will be sent to Iraq, to protect Japanese engineers working in the al-Muthanna province in the south of the country.

Mr Howard decided to send the additional troops to Iraq, following requests from the UK and Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi.

Mr Howard said that the deployment of additional troops would be unpopular with many Australians, but he said that he believed it was the right decision. He said that if the Dutch troops were not replaced it was unlikely that the Japanese workers, who are involved in school and road construction, could remain in the country.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw welcomed the Australian Prime Minister's decision. He said: "I very much welcome the decision of the Australian government, announced today in Canberra, to send 450 troops to join us in supporting and mentoring Iraqi security forces in providing general security in al-Muthanna province in Iraq, as well as working closely with the Japanese battalion which is carrying out reconstruction work in Al-Muthanna. Japan joined us in inviting the Australians to make this deployment, which has the full support of the Iraqi Interim Government. As a joint operation between three contributors to the Multi-National Force, it is an example of the international commitment to reconstruction in Iraq and the training of its security forces, set out in UN Security Council Resolution 1546."

The Australian soldiers will replace Dutch troops, who are scheduled to leave next month. The latest deployment will include a cavalry squadron, infantry company and team to train local forces.

Australia sent 2000 troops to take part in the US-led invasion of Iraq – a move that sparked anti-war protests in the country.

There are still around 950 Australian troops based in and around Iraq.

(KMcA/SP)

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