Australia to keep troops in Iraq; Japan considers pullout
CANBERRA/TOKYO: Australian Prime Minister John Howard said his troops will still have a role in Iraq even when foreign forces hand over security to Iraqi forces in the country's south, indicating his country's troops would not be brought home soon.
Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie said on Friday that Iraq has an agreement to take over security responsibilities from Japanese, Australian and British troops in southern Iraq this month.
About 460 Australian troops are providing security for the Japanese contingent of 600 in Iraq's southern Muthanna province. In total, Australia has about 1,320 troops in Iraq and the Middle East.
Howard said handing over security responsibility to Iraqi forces did not mean Australian troops' duties there were completed. “It doesn't put them out of a job because coalition forces are needed as a backup to the Iraqi security forces in those areas where the Iraqi security forces are taking over,” Howard told the Nine Network.
“It is very shortsighted to go from a situation where the principal security responsibility is being carried by the coalition force to a position where there is no involvement of the coalition forces,” he said. “To jump from primary responsibility to no responsibility would be to risk a smooth transition to what we all want, and that is a position where the Iraqis can look after themselves.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is considering announcing an end to Japan's military mission in Iraq ahead of his meeting with US President George W Bush later this month, Japan's foreign minister said on Sunday.
Asked if Koizumi would announce the withdrawal in time for the planned June 29 summit, Taro Aso said in a television interview: “We are considering it. If conditions are met, that's possible.” Koizumi, who will visit Canada and the United States from June 27 to July 1 before his term in office ends in September, expects to announce the pullout as early as Wednesday, news reports have said. agencies