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Most Australians Support War With Iraq


Opinion polls in Australia show a surge in support for the war on Iraq. For the first time, more Australians approve of military action to disarm Saddam than oppose it. Australia has sent 2,000 troops to Iraq along with fighter jets and warships.

Street musicians play Waltzing Matilda, an old Australian folk song, to midday shoppers with war on their minds here in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

Grace, 19, and Anton, 15, explain their very different views about Australia's involvement in the war in Iraq.

"Innocent people are being killed over - I think part of the reason we're going to war is over oil,' says Grace. "Oil equals money and… I don't like it. I don't agree with the war."

"They're the bad guys," says Anton. " We're not going in there for no reason and attacking because we want this and we want that. I don't think we can sit back watch what's happening."

The latest opinion poll, published in an Australian newspaper, shows that opposition to the war has fallen to 42 percent from 75 percent. The survey suggests that for the first time, more Australians support the invasion than disapprove of it.

Some political analysts say the seismic shift is due in part to the fact there have been no Australian casualties. There also is a feeling that now the war had started, the coalition should be allowed to depose Saddam.

One analyst says it is likely that "Middle Australia" has started to support the government after initial skepticism about the conflict. Polling organizations also say they have detected a shift in attitudes among women and younger people.

The conservative government here has made little of this turn around in the polls. Privately, ministers say they fear that gory battlefield images on television could eat into the new support for the government's military commitment.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is preparing Australians, saying there will be tougher times ahead for allied troops.

"The events in Basra are a warning of things to come. That Iraqi irregulars are likely to fight hard as military action moves closer to Baghdad," Mr. Downer said.

The conservative Prime Minister John Howard led a largely unwilling nation into war almost a week ago.

He recently told parliament he understood his stance on Iraq is not universally popular.

"I acknowledge that people will disagree violently with the view I hold on this issue," the prime minister said. "I respect that. I ask them, though, to respect the passion and commitment that I have brought to this decision."

This student, however, is not won over. He has a message for Mr. Howard.

"I'd say you're an idiot and you shouldn't get Australia involved in it. It's none of our business," he said.

But Mr. Howard still has considerable support.

"I like John Howard," said Bernadette Pensioner. "I think he's an honest man."

Australia is still a very nervous country after a terrorist bomb on the Indonesian island of Bali killed 88 Australians last October. The opposition Labor Party has warned that Australia's involvement in the Iraq war might bring on greater risks of terrorism, fears shared by many people here.

"Yes, everybody's scared, oh yes," admitted one grandmother. "Everybody is. Everybody's scared - should be, too."

Despite the recent turnaround in public opinion, anti-war demonstrations are continuing across Australia.

Most of the protests have been peaceful. On Wednesday, however, violence broke out, with angry schoolchildren throwing debris and smashing signs as they fought with police in central Sydney. More than a dozen people were arrested and a handful of police officers taken to the hospital.

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