Monday, February 21, 2005

Australia to send extra 450 troops to Iraq

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia will send an additional 450 troops to Iraq (news - web sites) to provide security for Japanese engineers helping rebuild the country's south, Prime Minister John Howard said.

Howard, one of US President George W. Bush (news - web sites)'s closest allies, said Iraq was at a "tilting point" following recent elections and the coalition had to support the fledgling democracy.

"The government believes that Iraq is very much at a tilting point and it's very important that the opportunity of democracy, not only in Iraq, but also in other parts of the Middle East be seized and consolidated," he told reporters.

Howard said it would be "devastating" if the Iraqi democracy failed.

Australia already has about 950 military personnel in and around Iraq, although only a few hundred are believed to be deployed on the ground.

The prime minister said the initial commitment was for a year, with two troop deployments, each spending six months in Iraq. He refused to say whether it could be expanded after that.

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