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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 April, 2003, 10:08 GMT 11:08 UK
Howard lifted by Iraq war
John Howard
John Howard has been a staunch ally of the US
Australian Prime Minister John Howard's popularity has been helped by the apparently swift and successful end to the US-led coalition's war in Iraq.

A poll published by the Newspoll agency suggested that 57% of Australians now support Mr Howard's stance on Iraq, compared with just 48% the week before war broke out.

The results will be seen as a vindication of Mr Howard's decision to send 2,000 Australian forces to join US and British troops in the conflict, despite significant domestic opposition.

The poll also showed that 62% regarded Mr Howard as their preferred choice of prime minister, while support for opposition Labor leader Simon Crean fell to just 16%.

Australian troops in Iraq
2,000 Australian troops have been deployed to Iraq
Australia's Defence Minister Robert Hill said on Tuesday that Australia was hoping to withdraw its troops from the region in the near future.

"It is our objective to get them home as soon as reasonably possible," Mr Hill said.

But he also said a group of military specialists would be sent to join US forces in the region to hunt for weapons of mass destruction.

"A very major job remains to search some hundreds of sites listed, to interrogate those who may have information on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Visit to Texas

As one of America's few military allies in the Iraq conflict, Mr Howard is due to visit US President George Bush at his ranch in Texas at the beginning of May, to discuss efforts to rebuild post-war Iraq.

Australia "has stood as a strong ally and close friend on the major security challenges we face today," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on Tuesday.

The Newspoll results showed that a majority of Australians believe the war will improve global security - a major reason Mr Howard gave for participating in the US-led conflict.

But Mr Howard still faces opposition from some quarters.

Former United Nations chief weapons inspector Richard Butler accused him of jeopardising Australia by "alienating" its Asian neighbours.

"By putting us so squarely in the US camp, he has made us a larger terrorist target than we otherwise would have been," Mr Butler said.


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