Australian Foreign Minister commits troops to US-led strike on Iraq
The Jerusalem Post

March 18, 2003

Just hours after announcing its troops would take part in any US-led attack on Iraq, the Australian government expelled all Iraqi embassy staff, the foreign minister announced Tuesday.

The five diplomats who work at the embassy in Canberra, and their families, were given five days to pack their bags and leave.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced the move shortly after a somber Prime Minister John Howard told the nation he had given 2,000 military personnel in the Middle East the green light to join a US attack aimed at disarming Iraq.

"In view of the government's decision that Australia will participate in coalition military action against Iraq ... I have decided to expel all Iraqi staff of the Iraqi Embassy from Australia," Downer said in a statement.

Downer said the action was a "logical and prudent" step in light of the likely military action against Iraq.

"The expulsion of staff from the Iraqi Embassy will contribute to the security of Australia and Australian forces fighting in Iraq," he said.

Australia's federal Cabinet made the decision to commit to the US "coalition of the willing" Tuesday morning following a telephone request from Bush to Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

The expulsions came a week after the government kicked out another Iraqi diplomat which it had accused of spying.

A man who answered the phone at the Iraqi embassy refused to comment.

Howard's announcement in a televised address Tuesday came just hours after US President George W. Bush called him to ask Australian troops to join a "coalition of the willing" and despite strong opposition among the Australian public.
"This government has taken a decision which it genuinely believes is in the medium- and longer-term interests of this country," Howard said.

Howard said the move has "a sound legal basis in the resolutions of the Security Council that have already been passed," which demand that Iraq cooperate with weapons inspectors ensuring that Baghdad has rid itself of weapons of mass destruction.

He said if international forces massed on Iraq's borders were withdrawn, "any semblance of cooperation from Iraq would disappear."

Howard said he was "very conscious" of the opposition to his decision in the Australian community. A poll published Tuesday showed 71 percent of voters oppose US-led strikes. On Sydney's landmark Opera House Tuesday, a banner with huge red letters spelled out "No War."

Bush administration officials in Washington said the president would give Saddam Hussein 48 hours to flee the country or face a US-led invasion. Bush was to outline his plans in a national televised address Monday night at 8 p.m. Washington time (0100 GMT).

"The diplomatic window has now been closed," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer declared.
Howard, who is one of Bush's staunchest supporters, pulled his Cabinet in for an early morning emergency session Tuesday to consider Bush's request for military support.

The meeting broke up after only 50 minutes and Howard then briefed government lawmakers before addressing the nation.

Answering questions from reporters in Canberra after the address, Howard refused to discuss a timetable for military action, saying it was an "operational" matter.

Howard said the government had no intention of increasing its deployment from the current 2,000 personnel.

"The government has authorized the chief of the Australian Defense Force to place the Australian forces already deployed in the Gulf region as part of any US-led coalition operation that may take place in the future," Howard said in his address.

Howard's decision was to be debated later Tuesday in parliament but would not be put to a vote.
"This has been a difficult hard slog issue for me through my own thought processes but having done that I believe very strongly the position the government has taken is right, I intend to explain it as best I can and argue it as best I can to the Australian people," he said.

Opposition Labor Party leader Simon Crean earlier warned Australian involvement in a US-led strike would put Australia at greater risk of terror attacks.

"Our involvement in this war will spawn terrorism and encourage terrorists and Australia will as a consequence become more of a target," Crean told reporters.

Howard's Cabinet was briefed in an emergency session Monday night by top military officials on the likely outcome of strikes against Iraq and Australia's involvement in the action.

As well as elite troops, Australia has fighter planes and navy ships in the region.
Nearly 300,000 US, British and other troops are poised at Iraq's borders.

The government Monday issued new warnings to travelers in the Middle East, advising citizens to leave Iraq, Kuwait and Israel, and to defer nonessential travel to Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Qatar and Bahrain.