Sunday, February 11, 2007
SYDNEY, Australia — Australia’s conservative prime minister slammed Barack Obama on Sunday over his opposition to the Iraq war, a day after the first-term U.S. senator announced his intention to run for the White House in 2008.
Obama said Saturday at his campaign kickoff in Springfield, Ill., that one of the country’s first priorities should be ending the war in Iraq. He has also introduced a bill in the Senate to prevent President Bush from increasing American troop levels in Iraq and to remove U.S. combat forces from the country by March 31, 2008.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch Bush ally who has sent troops to Iraq and faces his own re-election bid later this year, said Obama’s proposals would spell disaster for the Middle East.
“I think that will just encourage those who want to completely destabilize and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and a victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for an Obama victory,” Howard said on Nine Network television.
“If I were running al-Qaida in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and be praying as many times as possible for a victory, not only for Obama but also for the Democrats.”
Howard has defied widespread domestic opposition to the war, keeping about 1,400 Australian troops in and around Iraq, mostly in non-combat roles. He is seeking a fifth term later this year, and recent polls suggest voters are increasingly unhappy about his refusal to set a deadline for withdrawing Australian troops from the Middle East.
“You either rat on the ally or you stay with the ally,” he said. “If it’s all right for us to go, it’s all right for the Americans and the British to go, and if everybody goes, Iraq will descend into total civil war and there’ll be a lot of bloodshed.”
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs, traveling with the senator in Iowa, said that Howard’s words were misguided.
“The United States has sacrificed more than 3,000 brave young men and women and $400 billion, only to find ourselves mired in the middle of a sectarian civil war,” he said. “Even Republicans … know that more of the same is only going to attract more terrorists to Iraq and make our country less safe.”
Gibbs went on to say that Howard wasn’t in a position to be overly critical.
“If Prime Minister Howard truly believes what he says, perhaps his country should find its way to contribute more than just 1,400 troops so some American troops can come home,” he said. “It’s easy to talk tough when it’s not your country or your troops making the sacrifices.”