Reuters news agency says about 500 Australian combat troops have begun pulling out of their base in southern Iraq, fulfilling an election promise by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to bring the soldiers home this year.By Monday morning, more than half the troops had already arrived in Brisbane, where a parade is being planned. The media task of glorifying the troops was well underway.
A British military spokesman in the southern city of Basra said the pullout from Talil base in Nassiriya was underway, but a spokesman for the governor of Dhi Qar province said it had been completed, with US forces replacing the Australians.
John Howard still insists "it was the right thing to have done":
But interviews with his highest advisers in the departments of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister and Cabinet, and with officials in intelligence agencies reveal the government was fully briefed on the adverse long-term consequences of invading Iraq.UPDATE: It's interesting to see how the post-Cold War "peace dividend" has manifested itself in the Coalition of the Wilting. Just look how many ex-Soviet satellites are on the list of remaining countries in Iraq (with numbers of troops):
The government was warned of the destabilisation of the Middle East, the requirement for a long-term troop presence in Iraq, the country becoming a focus for extremists, the damage to US prestige and the generation of anti-Western sentiment.
"All that was predictable and I don't think the benefits of the West going in were worth the cost," said one senior official, who would not be named. "That was my judgment at the time and that hasn't changed."
... Of a less tangible cost, it was "too early to make a negative judgment on the impact on American moral authority", Mr Howard said. "That implies it is settled without argument that what America did was morally wrong - well I don't accept that."
A picture emerges of a bureaucracy that "assumed" Australia was going to be engaged in Iraq. "There did not appear to be at any time in the lead-up to the involvement in Iraq a serious discussion about the policy consequences of being engaged," one very senior official said. He wished "there had been a more detailed consideration of the consequences both immediate and long-term."
... Of the decision to go into Iraq, Mr Howard said: "It was hard; very, very, very hard. It was very much my decision." It was a decision influenced "partly by the fact I had been in America at the time of the [September 11] attack and because of what terrorism represented".
And it was a decision he came to early. "It was obvious to me through 2002 that this decision would have to come. I kept the options open right to the end but I took all the steps consistent with us being involved if we did finally decide to."
Throughout the interview, Mr Howard stressed it was important to remember the context of his decision. "Back in 2001, 2002 through to 2003, it was widely believed in America that there would be another attack. We tend to forget that now."
While not the only factor in his decision, Mr Howard said the US alliance was "very much a major element". He said: "Although our relationship would be strong even if we had not joined the coalition, the fact we did join the coalition was very deeply appreciated and has further deepened the alliance."
Mr Howard's minister for foreign affairs, Alexander Downer, said the alliance would not have collapsed if Australia had not followed the US into Iraq but "Australia would have just become a bit player in global events".
Georgia 2,000The other countries are:
Czech Republic 96
South Korea 933And of course:
El Salvador 280