Australian Gov't Wants Public, Opposition Support Ahead Of Any Strike On Iraq

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Prime Minister John Howard has assured Australians they will know ahead of time if their armed forces are to participate in a U.S.-led strike on Iraq.

"The Australian people are not going to wake up one morning and without warning there's an announcement from me that we are involved," he told a Melbourne radio station.

Fighting complaints by political opponents about his government's in-principle support for military action against Iraq, Howard also said he would seek support of the official opposition if Washington asked Australia to take part in an assault.

"We would of course have a parliamentary debate, we would of course seek bipartisan support as we did in relation to East Timor," he added, in reference to a decision by Australia to head a 1999 peacekeeping mission to the formerly Indonesian-governed territory.

Howard also defended his government from allegations that fears about the danger posed by Iraq were unfounded.

"We, along with the Americans, have intelligence information. We haven't idly suggested that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction."

He reiterated the view that a diplomatic solution would be preferable, but that military action may in the end be unavoidable.

Defense Minister Robert Hill said in another radio broadcast there was "considerable evidence" Saddam was pursuing his WMD program.

"It wasn't totally destroyed at the time of the Gulf War," he said. "No doubt more of that evidence will be declassified and put before the broader community."

President Bush said Thursday he would make the case against Saddam Hussein in a Sept. 12 speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

Both Howard and Hill stressed Australia had yet to be approached by the U.S. with a request to be involved in a military campaign.

In an interview with The Australian newspaper due to be published Saturday, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said the president would be "consulting our closest allies" during the process of reaching a decision on what to do regarding Iraq.

Wolfowitz said Australia had "a special status" among those allies, and praised the country for its firm backing for and military participation in the war against terrorism, the daily said Friday.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow