Mon, Oct 16, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Former Australia defense chief stirs debate on Iraq

AFP , SYDNEY

Australia's defense force chief at the time of the invasion of Iraq said in remarks published yesterday that he now believes the war has increased the threat of Islamic militancy.

The comments by retired general Peter Cosgrove come just days after Britain's army chief caused a furore by saying British troops in Iraq were exacerbating security problems around the world.

"If people say that there has been an energizing of the jihadist movement through the protracted war in Iraq -- well that's pretty obvious," Cosgrove told the Sunday Telegraph.

The highly respected Vietnam veteran, who retired last year, said he had apologized to national police chief Mick Keelty for criticizing his comments that the Iraq War had inspired the 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid.

"Things have moved on. I have got no reason to argue the weighty assessments that I am seeing," Cosgrove said.

The Australian government under Prime Minister John Howard, a close ally of Washington, contributed troops to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and maintains a force of some 1,300 involved in Iraqi operations.

Britain's army chief, General Richard Dannatt, said in an interview with the Daily Mail newspaper on Friday that British troops in Iraq should pull out soon.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair played down the comments, saying Dannatt was not calling for an immediate withdrawal.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer echoed Blair's remarks in an interview on Australian television yesterday.

"In terms of pulling out of Iraq, I don't think the British general was saying that British troops should immediately withdraw," Downer told Network Ten.

"But if the proposition here is that foreign troops eventually should withdraw from Iraq, everybody agrees with that. Nobody wants to stay in Iraq for one minute longer than is necessary and the definition of necessary is whether the Iraqi regime can survive without the support of some foreign troops," he said.

Opposition Labor Party leader Kim Beazley said Cosgrove's comments supported Labor's opposition to the war and called for Australian troops to be withdrawn.

"General Cosgrove, Commissioner Keelty and many others, including the chief of the British defense forces, now make the point that the war in Iraq has made us less safe in the struggle with fundamentalist terror," he told reporters.

"It's something the Labor Party said was the likely outcome of that war for a very long period of time, and John Howard owes the Australian people an explanation for what he's done," he said.

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