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War a poll winner for Howard

By CNN's Grant Holloway

Howard farewells the HMAS Sydney en route to the Persian Gulf
Howard farewells the HMAS Sydney en route to the Persian Gulf

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CANBERRA, Australia (CNN) -- For Australian Prime Minister John Howard nothing succeeds quite like success.

The conservative Australian leader's decision to commit 2,000 troops, plus warships and aircraft, to action in a war in the Persian Gulf seemed to be a major political gamble.

Polls taken in January this year showed more than three-quarters of Australians were opposed to the nation's involvement in a war in Iraq without backing from the United Nations.

A little over 10 weeks later Howard is riding high, commanding record popular support as Australia's leader.

According to a Newspoll conducted at the weekend and published Tuesday in The Australian newspaper, 58 percent of Australians are satisfied with the job Howard is doing as prime minister.

And if an election were held now, Howard's coalition government would be returned to power with a significant increase in its already substantial majority of seats in parliament.

What's more, popular opinion on Australia's involvement in the action in Iraq has also swung around.

The Newspoll shows a total of 57 percent of Australians are now in favor of their troops fighting in Iraq, compared with 36 percent opposed. This compares with 45 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed less than a month ago.

This is despite coalition forces being yet to establish any evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

Later this week a team of 12 Australian specialists will travel to Iraq to help in the search for weapons of mass destruction.

Last week Greenpeace protestors on Sydney Harbor managed to delay the departure of an Australian navy frigate bound for the Persian Gulf where it will relieve two other navy veseels currently operating there. (Frigate stalled)

Australia has yet to suffer any military casualties in the Iraq conflict despite its special forces troops being directly involved in key actions early in the campaign.

Currently Australian Special Air Services troops are being used to monitor the movement of people in west Iraq, in particular looking for former regime officials who might be trying to flee to neighboring Syria.

Early election talk

The poll boost provided by the war has some political analysts suggesting Howard might seek to capitalize on the momentum and call an early election.

The opposition Labor party is languishing with just 45 percent of the two-party preferred vote and leader Simon Crean managing to garner just 16 percent support as alternative prime minister.

The last election was in November 2001 and the next does not have to be held until late 2004.

But Howard may be tempted to take advantage of the opposition disarray to secure for himself an historic fourth consecutive victory despite a stated preference that governments should see out their full terms.

Howard has said he intends to review his future in politics in July this year, the occasion of his 64th birthday.

Given the uncertain global security climate, it seems a safe bet the Australian leader will choose to stay at the helm to fight another election, whenever that may be.

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