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NSW: Australian troops to remain in Iraq: Fitzgibbon

24 Dec 2008 4:08 PM

SYDNEY, Dec 24 AAP - Australia intends to maintain a non-combat military presence in Iraq following authorisation from the Gulf nation for foreign troops to stay for the first half of 2009.

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has welcomed an Iraqi parliament resolution allowing Australian troops to remain in the country until the end of July next year.

"The parliament authorised the Iraqi government to take all measures in order to realise the complete withdrawal of Britons, Australians, Romanians, Salvadorians, Estonians and those from NATO no later than July 31, 2009," said Jamal al-Butikh, chief of the secular National List party on Wednesday (AEDT).

The United States, which supplies 95 per cent of foreign troops in Iraq, has already signed a Status of Forces Agreement with Baghdad, under which its combat forces can remain in the country until the end of 2011.

"The Australian government welcomes the passage of this resolution which reflects in the improved security situation in Iraq and the clear decision of Iraq to increase responsibility for its own security," Mr Fitzgibbon told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.

"The resolution will now be considered by the government of Iraq and it is intended that our two governments will conclude a formal agreement ... to the ADF's (Australian Defence Force's) continued role."

As part of Australia's presence in Iraq, Mr Fitzgibbon said, a security detachment would remain in Baghdad to provide continued protection for Australia's diplomatic mission.

"Our C-130 aircraft will also continue to provide support to Australia's military and diplomatic presence," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

"Our AP-3C Orion aircraft will continue to operate in the Middle East area of operations including in Afghanistan. Their mission tasking will be determined in accordance with operational priorities.

"Following consultation with our allies and in response to a request from the United States, our naval forces in the Gulf will be reassigned to other maritime missions within the Gulf."

The minister remained tightlipped about the naval request, but confirmed an Australian naval presence would remain in the Gulf.

"Over the last 18 years or so we've had a frigate in the Gulf," he said.

"We have from time to time re-tasked our operations there. We have been in consultation with the US now about how we can best continue to make a contribution. Those talks are ongoing. All I can say at this stage is that we will continue to have naval force element in the Gulf."

This Christmas, Australia will have some 3,500 military personnel deployed at 11 locations around the world, Mr Fitzgibbon said.