Australia: Leaving Iraq would embolden Iran, Syria

Withdrawing troops from Iraq in circumstances of defeat would embolden extremists in Iran, Syria and Lebanon and destabilize the Middle East, Australia's leader said Friday. A staunch US ally, Prime Minister John Howard defied widespread public opposition to send 2,000 Australian troops to assist the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, and now maintains about 1,300 troops in and around Iraq. He has repeatedly refused to answer calls from opposition lawmakers to set a deadline for the withdrawal of troops, saying Australia will remain in the Middle East until Iraqi security forces can secure the country.