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Latham Should Reconsider Iraq Stand: Howard

John Howard has maintained his pressure on Mark Latham over the Labor leader’s proposal to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq by Christmas if the ALP wins this year’s election.

It “sends the wrong message” to the Iraqi people, said Howard, in response to a question about whether Latham was “playing into the hand of terrorists”.

Note the Prime Minister’s careful use of language in this brief interview. Instead of dismissing the absurd idea that Latham is pandering to “terrorists”, Howard expresses his “disappointment” and talks about “obligations” to the Iraqi people and our “American friends”.

This is the transcript of a doorstop interview given by the Prime Minister, John Howard, in the Great Hall, Parliament House, Canberra.


Prime Minister, is Mark Latham playing into the hands of terrorists by talking about withdrawing Australian troops from Iraq?


Well look I’m very, very disappointed that he’s just said that even if he were asked as prime minister by the Iraqi Government to stay, he would say no. I really think he should reconsider what he’s saying and doing. This is not the time for anybody, I repeat anybody, to be talking about pulling out of Iraq. That sends the wrong message to the Iraqi people, let’s put aside our differences about whether we should have been there in the first place, we’re there, and we have international obligations to fulfil. He keeps talking about having fulfilled those obligations, you don’t fulfil them simply by staying there until the handover, we are certainly going to be required to remain there after the handover, and it’s just too early to be setting these arbitrary deadlines, I think it’s very disappointing that he’s setting these arbitrary deadlines and obviously the Government has its position and if it continues as the government that position will obtain. But as the Opposition Leader, as the alternative Prime Minister, he’s got a responsibility on this issue and I think he’s sending completely the wrong signal.


Do you expect we will be asked to stay on longer?


Well we are staying on until we have done the job, and clearly the job is not finished and it’s wrong of anybody to be setting arbitrary deadlines, it’s just completely wrong, it’s sending the wrong signals to the terrorists in Iraq, it’s sending the wrong signal to the people of Iraq and it is sending the wrong signal to our American friends and our other allies, it is just the wrong time on all of those counts for anybody to be talking about pulling out, we should be giving reassurance, we should be continuing to provide help in training the Iraqi Army, in training the Iraqi police, that’s some of the valuable work that our people are doing. So we should not be talking about pulling out, I am very disappointed that he has taken this line and I hope that he will reconsider it.


Do you think that setting these arbitrary deadlines places Australian troops in Iraq at risk?


Look I am not going to start talking about quantums of risk towards our troops, I think they are in a very difficult position anyway and of course there’s always a danger when you’re in a difficult theatre of operation. But they can look after themselves pretty well and they’re very professional and we all hope and pray nothing happens to any of them. But the central point is that although we’re making progress in Iraq, we’re a long way from the situation where we should be talking about withdrawal, that’s the point I’m making and it does not help to send the right signals for the Opposition Leader in Australia to be talking about withdrawal by Christmas, I don’t think he quite understands what that means, he’s talking about withdrawing after we’ve fulfilled our obligations, as if our obligations are fulfilled when the handover takes place. That’s not the case and he seems to continue to misunderstand that point.

Thank you, I’ve got an engagement.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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