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Page last updated at 17:10 GMT, Monday, 2 June 2008 18:10 UK

Australia ends Iraq combat role

Australian troops in Iraq on 19 May (image: Australian army website)
The soldiers helped train Iraqi forces

Australia, one of the first countries to commit troops to the war in Iraq five years ago, has ended its combat operations there.

Australian troops are due to begin returning home in a few days in line with a promise by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who swept to power in November.

He said the previous government had abused intelligence information to justify joining the Iraq war.

Australia's 500 troops in Iraq have helped to train 33,000 Iraqi soldiers.

In parliament on Monday, Mr Rudd said his predecessor, John Howard, had been wrong to join the war in Iraq.

"Of most concern to this government was the manner in which the decision to go to war was made: the abuse of intelligence information, a failure to disclose to the Australian people the qualified nature of that intelligence," Mr Rudd said.

He added the public had not been told of a pre-war warning that an attack on Iraq would increase, not decrease, the terrorist threat to Australia.

'Extremely proud'

About 300 Australians will remain inside Iraq on logistical and air surveillance duties.

No Australian soldiers were killed in combat in Iraq though several were wounded.

Mr Howard has defended his decision to send in troops in 2003.

"I firmly believe it was the right thing to have done," he told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

He added the cost of the war had been "very, very heavy and much greater than anybody would have liked".

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said the Australian mission had been a success.

"Our soldiers have worked tirelessly to ensure that local people in southern Iraq have the best possible chance to move on from their suffering under Saddam's regime and, as a government, we are extremely proud of their service," he said in a statement on Sunday.

He singled out the Australian contribution to the Iraqi army's Counter Insurgency Academy as a "lasting legacy".

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Australian troops lower their flag in the Iraqi city of Talil



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