Report: Australian PM secretly planning withdrawing forces from Iraq
Australian Prime Minister John Howard is secretly planning to start withdrawing Australian forces from Iraq by February 2008, Australian media reported on Sunday. The Sunday Telegraph, quoting an unnamed senior military source, described Howard's pullout plan as "one of the most closely guarded secrets in top levels of the bureaucracy."
It added the troop resuction would focus on soldiers based in southern Iraq on security duty with Iraqi soldiers. Australia has some 1,500 soldiers, sailors and airmen in and around Iraq.
According to Reuters, just last week Prime Minister Howard said there were no plans to withdraw Australian forces from Iraq, and has consistently said that Australian troops would remain in Iraq for as long as needed. A spokesman for Howard on Sunday referred to Howard's statement last week and told Reuters that he did not want to give credence to the Sunday Telegraph report.
Howard said last week that his government was not committed to a timetable over Australian troops in Iraq but was committed to an outcome driven by circumstances and events. His pullout plan had yet to be presented to American President Bush or to the Australian Cabinet, the Sunday Telegraph said.
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