Australia PM rules out reducing troop numbers in Iraq

Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Wednesday ruled out following Britain to reduce and withdraw troops from Iraq.

This came following media reports that British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to announce later Wednesday that British troops will start to withdraw from Iraq within weeks as local forces take control.

Reports said the British contingent around Iraq's city of Basra will be cut to 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers.

Australia has about 550 soldiers in southern Iraq, based at Tallil, But Howard said there are no plans to reduce those numbers.

"You've got to maintain critical mass and to do the job, according to our defence advice, you need that," he told reporters in Perth, capital of the state of Western Australia.

"The reason I understand Mr. Blair will give is that conditions have stabilized in Basra so that there can be this decision taken, " he said.

"They will still have 5,000 and we will 550," he added.

"I don't think it follows from that there should be a reduction in our 550," Howard said.

Howard announced Monday that Australia will send up to 70 more military trainers to Iraq in the near future, as the United States steps up its military forces in the country to try to stamp out the insurgency.

Australia, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led war on terror, currently maintains around 1,400 troops in the Middle East, including 800 based inside Iraq.

Source: Xinhua

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