Australia will not withdraw troops from Iraq because insurgents could still plunge the war-torn nation back into tyranny, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Tuesday. Australian troops will remain until Iraqi forces are strong enough to deal with security threats, Downer told reporters on the sidelines of meetings of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Downer planned to meet U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week for talks expected to focus on security issues, including Iraq. Australian troops joined U.S. and British forces in the invasion of Iraq and Canberra still has hundreds of troops in the country. Downer said the government remains committed to bolstering democracy in Iraq.
"The progress toward democracy in Iraq has been greater and faster than I would have ever anticipated," Downer said. He said insurgents continued to endanger democracy and attack innocent people.
"Obviously it would be an act of folly to walk away from the vast majority of Iraqis and leave them in the hands of Saddam Hussein and insurgents and terrorists and allow the country to plunge back into tyranny," Downer said. "That would be irresponsibility of the most extreme kind."
Coalition forces were continuing to train Iraqi troops and assess their capability, he said.
"The capacity of the Iraqis to take over security would be the defining issue in terms of the downsizing of British forces as well as Americans and Australian and others," he said.
Sectarian and ethnic rivalries fuel the daily violence and bloodshed in Iraq, and U.S. and Iraqi officials mostly blame Sunnis who held political primacy under Saddam. Foreign fighters crossing into Iraq from Syria and elsewhere appear to be responsible for some of the deadliest attacks.
Elections set for Dec. 15 for a permanent government will be another marker toward the day when U.S. and other forces might be able to quit the country, reports the AP. I.L.