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Australia's Howard says Iraq not a "disaster"

Written by: Staff

HANOI, Nov 19 (Reuters) Going to war in Iraq has been tough and a tragedy for many people involved, but it is not a disaster, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said today.

Asked about British Prime Minister Tony Blair's response to an interviewer who called Iraq a disaster, Howard said: ''It's been tougher than I expected but it's not a disaster when people, in the face of the most fearful intimidation, vote on three occasions to embrace democracy.'' On al Jazeera's new English-language TV channel, the interviewer suggested that the West's intervention in Iraq had been ''pretty much of a disaster''.

Mr Blair replied: ''It has, but you see what I say to people is why is it difficult in Iraq? ''It's not difficult because of some accident in planning, it's difficult because there's a deliberate strategy ... to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war.'' Blair's office said the comments were not an admission that the war had been a mistake, but the reply brought a flood of yesterday newspaper headlines saying Mr Blair had admitted the invasion was a disaster.

Mr Howard, in Hanoi for an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum summit, told reporters he found some of the developments in Iraq inspiring.

''Despite all of the difficulties, they conducted a trial of Saddam Hussein,'' he said.

''Despite the murder of one of the defence counsel, despite the fact that one of the judges was replaced. I don't call that a disaster, I call it certainly for the people involved and their families -- tragic. But the fact that people are prepared to persevere is to me heroic rather than disastrous.'' Australia has been a staunch ally of the US-led presence in Iraq and has about 1,500 troops stationed in and around the country.

US President George W Bush has insisted that American troops will not leave until Iraqis can take over security and has repeatedly rejected setting a timetable for withdrawal.

US Democrats have called for a new course in Iraq and many are looking for an exit plan.


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