Australian Prime Minister targets Obama on Iraq

Monday, February 12, 2007

Australian PM, John Howard

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has attacked US presidential candidate Barack Obama on his pledge to introduce a bill that would withdraw American troops from Iraq by March 2008.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Howard said the move would hand victory to insurgents in Iraq. "I think that would just encourage those who wanted completely to destabilise and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for (an) Obama victory," Mr Howard said.

If I was running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats.

John Howard, Australia Prime Minister

"If I was running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats."

Mr Obama dismissed Howard's comments as "empty rhetoric", unless he was to send another 20,000 Australians to fight in Iraq. "So, if he's (inaudible) if to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq. I would also note that we have close to 140,000 troops on the ground now, and my understanding is that Mr Howard has deployed 1,400", said Mr Obama.

The Australian government said its contribution to the war in Iraq was appropriate given Australia's population and military size and that Obama's response failed to address the "substance of the issue". Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said 20,000 troops would be "half of our army".

Mr Howard, considered a close ally of the United States government, has faced attacks and support from US politicians.

US Presidential contender, Barack Obama

Democrat Terry McAuliffe said "Firstly, the Prime Minister has been a great friend of George Bush's. He has been with him lock-step from day one on this war in Iraq."

Republican presidential candidate Duncan Hunter said Howard had earned a right to comment about Obama's policy "I think the Aussies have earned a right to comment on the world stage about their partner in this endeavour, because they've been fighting side-by-side with us in Iraq," said Hunter.

"And so I think that John Howard, while it wasn't a very complimentary statement, he is basically stating the truth and that is that what we say on the Senate floor on or the House floor goes to a world audience."

"And it has an impact on not only our allies, but also our adversaries."

Roy Ryden, another US Democrat said Mr Howard's comment was "bizarre" and accused the Prime minister of interfering with US politics "The most charitable thing you can say about Mr Howard's comment is bizarre. You know, we'll make our own judgements in this country with respect to elections and Barack Obama is a terrific public servant."

Mr Howard has drawn criticism from some conservative Republicans with John Cornyn saying Howard should stay out of US domestic politics.

The Australian Prime Minster further defended his statement today, claiming Obama's plan threatened Australia's national security.

"If the United States were to withdraw her combat units from Iraq by the early part of next year it could only be represented as a defeat for the United States in Iraq," he said.

"I hold the strongest possible view that it is contrary to the security interests of this country for America to be defeated in Iraq."

Australia's strong links to the United States and its support for the U.S.-led war on Iraq were key issues for Howard's fourth straight election win in late 2004. The Australian opposition has used the comments as an opportunity to attack the government. Opposition leader Kevin Rudd said Howard needed to avoid taking sides in American politics as it was important for the Australia-U.S. alliance that leaders could deal with each other despite their political affiliations.