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Australian Politicians at War Over Iraq Intelligence Report - 2004-07-15


The Australian government says a British report has reinforced the legality of the war in Iraq, despite its criticism of intelligence used to launch the war. But the opposition Labor Party has accused Prime Minister John Howard of committing a "monumental mistake" in sending troops to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The Labor Party says Prime Minister John Howard is one of the few world leaders who has not conceded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction when the war started last year. The opposition has called on the prime minister to apologize for taking Australia into battle on the "basis of a lie".

The conservative government, however, is standing firm. It says it "had strong intelligence" to support the decision to join the invasion and that nothing in the so-called Butler report on intelligence altered that position. The report was issued in Britain on Wednesday.

Australia relied heavily on U.S. and U.K. intelligence reports when it drew up plans to join the coalition.

Mr. Howard says several investigations have determined that intelligence was not doctored to justify invading Iraq. "We've now had an Australian parliamentary report, a U.S. Senate report and now Butler's report," he says. "All of them have said at no stage was undue pressure put on the intelligence agencies."

Australia was the third biggest combat force during the campaign to depose Saddam Hussein. More than 800 troops remain in the Gulf and their future role in the region will be a key issue in the next federal election.

Public opinion appears to support the government's view that Australian forces will remain "until their job is done." The Labor opposition plans to bring most of them home by the end of the year if it wins national elections expected in a few months.

While the Howard government was standing by its role in Iraq, it also was warning that international terror groups may be planning attacks in Australia.

A Foreign Ministry statement Thursday said Australia must do more to prevent terror attacks, and that the war on terror would continue for some time. The statement, however, gave no details on the potential terror threat.

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