Australia essential in Iraq: US

Australia's military presence in Iraq is essential, Deputy US Secretary of State Richard Armitage has said in the wake of the Opposition's pledge to pull troops out by Christmas if it wins the election.

Armitage said Washington was “enormously grateful” for Australia’s decision to participate in the US-led coalition in Iraq “and I think that Australia is participating in one of the momentous endeavours of our time”.

Australia has about 850 defence personnel in and around Iraq, down from 2000 last year when it joined the US-led invasion.

Opposition Leader Mark Latham pledged recently to withdraw troops from Iraq by Christmas if Labor won power.

Mr Latham charged last week that the US-Australia alliance was unequal under John Howard’s government.

A Labor government would strengthen ties with Asia and end the “fawning compliance” dominating Canberra’s alliance with the United States, he added.