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Canberra boosts Iraq troop numbers


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DARWIN, Australia (CNN) -- A further 32 Australian troops depart for Iraq on Wednesday to boost security for the nation's military trainers, diplomats and contractors there.

The additional soldiers, from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment and 5th/7th Battalion of The Royal Australian Regiment, lift the number of Australian troops in Iraq to about 880 and the security detachment to 120.

The troops will head for the Middle East from the northern port city of Darwin on Wednesday afternoon.

Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill said Tuesday the extra security was prompted by the increased number of bomb attacks in Iraq.

"Our commitment obviously is to remain there (Iraq) until the job is done," Hill told media."

That's a dangerous environment for both military forces and for our officials."

He said the decision to provide extra security was taken on advice from the Australian Defense Force.

The issue of Australian troops in Iraq has become a political football ahead of national elections expected later this year.

The conservative coalition government of Prime Minister John Howard has been a steadfast supporter of the Bush administration's policy on Iraq.

In contrast, the main opposition Labor party has pledged to withdraw the troops by Christmas, although this policy was softened earlier this week in a bid to heal any rift between Labor and the U.S. administration. (Full story)

Australia contributed around 2,000 troops, fighter jets and naval vessels to the initial invasion of Iraq last year.


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