Thursday, December 06, 2007

Australian Middle East Commander Declares Iraq Army Is "Ready To Stand On Its Own"

Major General Clears The Way For Troop Withdrawals From Iraq

The United States has officially accepted Australia's decision to withdraw more than 500 combat troops from Iraq by mid-2008, and now our top commander in the Middle East, Major General Mark Evans, has declared the Australian Defence Force's mission to train up Iraq's Army to take care of itself has been completed.

On Wednesday, US Undersecretary of State, Nicholas Burns, met with Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

Burns was told that the Rudd government was moving ahead with plans to withdraw Australian combat troops from Iraq, and Burns confirmed that this move would in no way damage the Australian-US alliance, or friendship.

Burns lobbied the ministers for Australian troops to remain in Iraq, and continue to help rebuild the country and its political system.

Major-General Mark Evans is quoted in the Melbourne Age as saying :

"I think the situation in (the provinces of) Dhi Qar and al-Muthanna is quite stable..."

"It's not without its violence … but it's certainly at a level now that both the governors of Dhi Qar and al-Muthanna would be of a view that they are well placed to manage most things."

"I'm pretty satisfied that the support we've given has enabled them (the Iraqis) to stand on their own two feet."

He said the Iraqi army was in a position to train its own forces, but Australia could play a role in training recruits and officers.

While Australia's troops in the south of the country will be gone by mid-2008, hundreds of other Australian military personnel will remain in and around Iraq.

The navy guards Iraq's oil platforms, commandos in Baghdad guard Australian diplomats, RAAF patrol planes guard road convoys and transport aircraft carry freight around the war zones.

More than 1000 Australian air force, navy and army personnel will remain in Iraq and neighbouring countries through 2008.

Earlier in the year, Kevin Rudd proposed that Australia could help to continue the training of Iraq military and police in Jordan, outside of the war zone.