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Australian Official Gives Upbeat Assessment of War in Iraq

Australia's defense chief has given an upbeat assessment of the coalition's progress in Iraq, calling the campaign so far a "dramatic success." There are 2,000 Australian military personnel in the Gulf, including navy divers and elite Special Forces.

Australia's most senior military officer says the allied advance into Iraq is proceeding remarkably well. General Peter Cosgrove calls the coalition troops professional and tough enough to cope with Iraqi resistance, which the government acknowledges has been fiercer than expected.

The country has sent its biggest combat deployment since the Vietnam War to the Gulf. Australian Special Forces are operating deep within Iraq, conducting long-range reconnaissance. Navy divers helped clear mines from the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, while transport aircraft have ferried supplies to the front line. Australian FA/18 Hornet jet fighters also have bombed targets in Iraq.

Speaking at a military briefing in the capital, Canberra, General Cosgrove said the coalition's campaign in Iraq is going according to plan. "War is full of surprises. This conflict has had a few already and there are probably more ahead," he said. "That's just the nature of a battle but those events that have been unanticipated have not thrown the plan off track and the coalition forces had built in the flexibility and stamina to adapt and adapt quickly. My view is that the bigger picture is one of dramatic success and a plan on time."

Two Australian frigates will return home from the Gulf at the end of the month. The authorities here have said the nature of the fighting means their maritime missions are almost completed. They will be replaced by a single Australian warship, the HMAS Sydney, which leaves for the Gulf within two weeks.

There is further evidence Australia's involvement in the Iraq war is gaining more public support.

Australia's conservative Prime Minister John Howard led a largely unwilling nation into war when the hostilities began almost two weeks ago. Opinion polls then reported an overwhelming majority of people opposed any military action in Iraq without sanction from the United Nations. That opposition now appears to have withered, according to polls published on Tuesday.

There have been no Australian casualties in the war so far and the feeling shared by many people is that now the U.S.-led troops have entered Iraq, they should stay and finish the job of disarming the country. The anti-war movement in Australia, however, remains a vocal and passionate force. A nationwide protest organized by student groups is planned for Wednesday. They say the conflict is illegal and immoral.