- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

SYDNEY, Australia The Bali nightclub bombing has forced Australia to rethink its support for the U.S. campaign against Iraq, with some warning that regional terrorists would not hesitate to use far more deadly weapons in Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's arsenal.

"In Bali, they [the terrorists] had car bombs. The destruction would be unthinkable if these same terrorists had weapons of mass destruction courtesy of Saddam Hussein," read one editorial in the Australian, a national daily.

"We cannot lose our nerve. Instead we should continue, and even intensify, our program to eliminate terrorism," the newspaper said.

But the horror of Australians maimed, burned and orphaned from the Bali blasts of Oct. 12 is also pulling public opinion in the opposite direction, with many clamoring for Australia to focus on the threat closer to home.

Those sentiments have put Prime Minister John Howard on the defensive.

"When I spoke to President Bush, he indicated that it was still his hope that that issue could be resolved without military force, and still have it resolved through the United Nations," the prime minister told Australian television shortly after the Bali massacre.

"I think the focus for Australia, understandably at the moment, is very much on helping the people who have been badly wounded and injured in Bali and offering comfort and help to those who have lost their loved ones in this terrible situation," Mr. Howard said.

The Australian government has given extraordinary public support to Mr. Bush's policy toward Baghdad.

The director of terrorism studies at the Strategic and Defense Studies Center at the Australian National University, Clive Williams, predicted that the events in Bali will force a reappraisal of the government's attitude toward Iraq.

"As the casualties of the Bali bombings increase, the feeling gets stronger that Australia ought to be more concerned with terrorism on its doorstep, rather than going off to fight a war in Iraq," he said.

"After all, the war in Iraq is all about U.S. foreign policy [oil] interests and not about terrorism," Mr. Williams told The Washington Times.

So far more than 30 Australians are confirmed dead in the Bali blasts, although the figure is expected to rise to more than half of the nearly 200 people killed.

Andrew MacIntyre, director of the Asia-Pacific School of Economics and Management at the Australian National University in Canberra, said he believes the Bali bombing will ultimately strengthen support for the United States on Iraq.

"Even middle Australia understands that though there is no connection as such between Bali blasts and Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, there are serious dangers coming out of the Middle East and we should be a part of it," Mr. MacIntyre said.

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