Australia's conservative prime minister slammed Barack Obama on Sunday over his opposition to the Iraq war, a day after the first-term U.S. senator announced his intention to run for the White House in 2008.
Obama said Saturday at his campaign kickoff in Springfield, Ill., that one of the country's first priorities should be ending the war in Iraq. He has also introduced a bill in the Senate to prevent President Bush from increasing American troop levels in Iraq and to remove U.S. combat forces from the country by March 31, 2008.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch Bush ally who has sent troops to Iraq and faces his own re-election bid later this year, said Obama's proposals would spell disaster for the Middle East.
"I think that will just encourage those who want to completely destabilize and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and a victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for an Obama victory," Howard said on Nine Network television.
"If I were running Al Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and be praying as many times as possible for a victory, not only for Obama but also for the Democrats."
"There's no way by March 2008, which is a little over a year from now, everything will have been stabilised so that America can get out in March 2008," Mr Howard said. "Al Qaeda will trumpet it as the greatest victory they've ever had."
"And, if America is defeated in Iraq, the hope of ever getting a Palestinian settlement will be gone."
Howard has defied widespread domestic opposition to the war, keeping about 1,400 Australian troops in and around Iraq, mostly in non-combat roles. He is seeking a fifth term later this year, and recent polls suggest voters are increasingly unhappy about his refusal to set a deadline for withdrawing Australian troops from the Middle East.
"You either rat on the ally or you stay with the ally," he said. "If it's all right for us to go, it's all right for the Americans and the British to go, and if everybody goes, Iraq will descend into total civil war and there'll be a lot of bloodshed."
Australian Labor Party leaders described Mr Howard's attack against Senator Obama as unprecedented.
Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Robert McClelland said Mr Howard was virtually telling people not to vote Democrat. "It's the first time that I can recall that an Australian prime minister has engaged in American politics in such a partisan way ... actually telling American people what side of politics they should vote for," he said.
"It's most inappropriate, it demeans the Australia-United States alliance to suggest its a relationship between political parties rather than an enduring relationship between two people."