The Burning Question
July 13th 2007
Australia's troop commitment to the war in Iraq is becoming a major election issue. The Government says our troops should stay, while the Opposition says the troops should be withdrawn. We asked four commentators for their views.
Iraq a vote trigger
Des Moore, policy commentator
IRAQ is in the midst of a US security surge and an internal political surge, which is admittedly lagging, to national reconciliation. Both need more time.
If the US withdraws before Iraq becomes a truly hopeless case, not only will the Middle East sink into dreadful turmoil but everyone will doubt America's staying power in future crises.
A US withdrawal would require its partners there to do the same. But we should not withdraw unilaterally before the US.
Typically underhanded, though, Labor tries to have it both ways, promising to withdraw our 550 combat forces but to leave a security detachment, army trainers, RAAF planes, and a guided missile frigate. And, contradictorily, to stay in Afghanistan too.
In this serious decision about consequences, the principal factor is whether Iraq is already a lost cause, without realistic hope of rescue.
Iraq is now experiencing an internecine struggle for power and position between Sunni and Shia (and Kurds) and among factions within all three groups.
Iraqis themselves must reach a political dispensation that gives the Sunni and Kurds more power and position than mere numbers justify.
The present coalition security effort is necessary if a peaceful resolution is to be reached. And with a continuing guarantee that a new constitutional settlement would not be upset by the dominant Shia acting with Iran's backing.
If Australia withdrew before the US, everyone, not only the US but others of importance to us in Asia and elsewhere, would doubt Australia's staying power.
That would have adverse consequences for us far outweighing the small cost, and none yet in combat lives, incurred by our extremely modest contribution.
At bottom it is in Australia's own national interest to stay and contribute to achieving a more secure world.