Defense chief says Australian combat troops in Iraq should be withdrawn

Australia's 550 combat troops based in southern Iraq have successfully made the area more secure and should now be withdrawn, the defense chief said Wednesday. The new government was elected in November last year with a promise to remove Australia's combat troops from Iraq by mid-2008. The head of Australia's defense force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, told a Senate inquiry Wednesday that planning was under way to withdraw the 550 combat troops based in the province of Dhi Qar as well as 65 army trainers. The troops have been on standby to offer backup to Iraqi forces in the south for the past two years but were no longer needed, Houston told the Senate committee which is carrying out a routine inquiry into Defense Department issues.