Tue, Jul 10, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Iraq pull-out could spark regional conflict: Downer

AP , CANBERRA

Pulling US coalition troops out of Iraq too soon could spark wider conflict throughout the Middle East, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said yesterday.

Al-Qaeda is fomenting sectarian violence in Iraq and if the terrorist group succeeds there the consequences for security in the wider Middle East region and elsewhere in the world would be dire, Downer said.

He said Saudi Arabia had significant links to Iraq's Sunni Muslim community, Iran had close ties to Iraq's Shiites, and Turkey has concerns about Iraq's Kurdish population, prompting "very great concern" about a regional war developing if coalition troops leave.

"If you allow Iraq to descend into total chaos with absolutely no international stabilization there and with an Iraqi security force unable to maintain security then there's a very high risk of [other] countries being drawn in," Downer told ABC radio.

Downer denied international forces were in Iraq to secure oil reserves, though he conceded oil supply disruptions were among the consequences that could arise if a regional conflict broke out.

"The reason for international forces being in Iraq is to keep the situation stable" and to provide sufficient security for the democratic government to survive until it can maintain security itself, he said.

Australia sent 2,000 troops to support the 2003 invasion of Iraq by US and British forces and keeps about 1,600 troops in the region.

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