Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Australian Prime Minister John Howard believes a war against Iraq is likely, and he said his country's military is preparing for that scenario. He confirmed that the Australian military has contingency plans in place in case it is asked to contribute to a U.S.-led strike.
In interviews with Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio and television, Howard said the Iraqi problem would not simply go away.
"Iraq does have weapons of mass destruction, she has shown a willingness to use them in the past, and in the kind of environment in which we live, that is not an issue that we can simply, as a world community, ignore."
Howard said he thought that war was "still more probable than not" - adding that the likelihood was probably in the realm of 60-40, rather than 80-20.
He defended the U.S. against criticism for its stance on the Iraqi situation, saying that Washington was working through the United Nations framework
"I believe [the Americans] want to work through the U.N. I don't think they want to be seen, or in reality [to] behave as though they disregard the U.N.," he said. "That is not their game and it is not Australia's game."
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday the U.S. considered Iraq to be in "material breach" of a new U.N. resolution over a recently-compiled, 12,000-page declaration about its weapons of mass destruction programs.
Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix agreed there were problems with the document.
Howard also expressed doubts the declaration would prove satisfactory. "We're dealing with somebody who has a track record of deception."
"To date it's not promising but we still have a while to go yet. The initial reaction of the Americans and the British, having looked at the Iraqi documents, is that there are a number of omissions."
He said he hoped the diplomatic option through the U.N. would work, but if it didn't, "the defense force ... has put certain arrangements in place in case they are called upon to commit forces."
But he stressed that the government had not yet made any decision to do so.
In separate comments reacting to the U.N. inspectors' assessment, Howard expressed disappointment, but said Iraq could still avoid war.
"Iraq can avoid a deterioration to military conflict if Iraq fully cooperates, fully complies, and fully discloses. It is in Iraq's hands to prevent military conflict occurring and the world hopes that Iraq takes that opportunity."
A Sydney tabloid reported this week that the Australian forces were preparing for a March 2003 campaign, and would contribute special forces troops, three warships, a fighter squadron and support aircraft.
Citing unnamed military sources, the Daily Telegraph said Bush was expected to give the green light early next month, and that an initial six-month operation could begin in March.
Canberra has declined to comment on the report.
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