An early coalition withdrawal from Iraq would crush the United States' international standing and could rob Iraqis of their last chance for stability, Australian Prime Minister John Howard warned Wednesday.
Under pressure to announce an exit strategy for the 1,400 Australian troops in and around Iraq, Howard said in a speech to the independent security think-tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute on Wednesday that a timetable for premature withdrawal of coalition forces would invite disastrous strategic and humanitarian consequences.
"It would undercut the forces of moderation in Iraq at the precise moment when they have a chance, perhaps a last chance, to stabilize their country," Howard said. "It would be a crushing blow to America's global leadership," he added, referring to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's description of the United States as a "weak horse."
Howard's standing has been battered according to recent opinion polls, as the opposition Labor Party gains popularity with it promise to withdraw troops from Iraq.