- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

SYDNEY, Australia, April 17 (UPI) — Half of the troops Australia sent to Iraq will be home by the end of the month, Prime Minister John Howard said Thursday.

Howard said while he does not want to commit peacekeeping troops to Iraq, he will contribute some forces to serve in post-war Iraq.

"What I have said is I don't think Australia should be in a situation where Australia has a large number of peacekeepers, a la the East Timor deployment, simply because we have responsibilities of that kind going on in our region," Howard told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

But, Howard said that "doesn't mean you can't have particular forces that provide support in certain areas."

The prime minister said Australia's special forces, F/A-18 Hornets, the navy's clearance diving teams, HMAS Darwin and HMAS will arrive in Australia in the next five to six weeks.

HMAS Kanimbla will return in June. Australia currently has 2,000 troops in Iraq.

However, Opposition leader Simon Crean accused Howard of not being up-front about the nation's commitments to post-war Iraq. Crean was responding to reports that Australia was considering a coalition request to provide peacekeeping troops to Iraq.

"We make ourselves more of a target for terrorism in those circumstances," Crean told ABC.

A spokeswoman for Defense Minister Robert Hill would not confirm reports of a request for 1,000 soldiers. But she told ABC that the government would not provide a large peacekeeping force.



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