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Backing Away from Iraq War Won't Stop Terror, says Australia PM

Australian Prime Minister John Howard is sticking with his support of U.S. policy towards Iraq, despite anti-war protests by hundreds of thousands of Australians over the past few days. Mr. Howard says an anti-war policy in the Persian Gulf won't buy Australia or anyone else immunity from possible terror attacks.

The prime minister was responding to comments by an Israeli security source that a strike against Saddam Hussein would inflame Islamic extremists and could provoke a rash of terror attacks against the West. "We are a terrorist target because we are part of Western society," said Mr. Howard, "and if you think taking a different stance on Iraq buys immunity for your citizens, think of the German and French citizens who've died in terrorist attacks."

Germany and France are among the most vocal opponents of a war against Iraq, yet French and German citizens have been killed in terrorist attacks in Tunisia and Pakistan during the past two years.

Mr. Howard, on the other hand, is one of the staunchest supporters of the United States' hard-line stance against Iraq. He has committed 2,000 troops, plus jetfighters and warships to the U.S.-led military build-up in the Gulf. His comments came in the wake of massive anti-war protests all over Australia on Saturday and Sunday.

The prime minister also signaled that he plans to stay in office until the next election, which is due as late as 2005, so that he can personally be accountable to voters for his tough Iraq policies.

He has consistently told voters he would reconsider his political future on his 64th birthday in July, when many political observers expected he would hand power to his Treasurer and heir apparent Peter Costello.

But the prime minister has indicated he now wants to contest his fourth election. "I'm accountable at election time," said Mr. Howard. "If the public at the next election doesn't like the job I've done they'll kick me out. I mean, that's what democracy's all about."

A new opinion poll shows Mr. Howard's approval rating has slumped to an eight-month low, down from 65 percent to 48 percent. But approval for the Labor opposition remains even lower, despite Labor's more popular anti-war stance.