Following the withdrawal of 1,400 Dutch troops who decided not to renew their commitment protecting the Japanese in the British-controlled south, the Australian cavalry, infantry and training team along with 40 armoured vehicles will be based in Al Muthanna province in southern Iraq.

There are currently 850 Australian troops in Iraq.

The announcement is a response to a call from Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Mr Howard said he knows the decision to send extra Australian troops to Iraq will be unpopular, but believes it is the right decision.

“It will make a significant contribution to the coalition effort. It will make a significant contribution to the rebuilding of Iraq,” said Mr Howard.

He said the move would be reviewed after six months to see if the extra Australian troops are still required for a full year.

“There have been discussions between the Australian government, the British government — bearing in mind the United Kingdom forces have overall security responsibility for the Al Muthanna province — and the Japanese government over recent weeks,” Mr Howard said.

“The prime minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi, telephoned me last Friday night and amongst other things invited and requested this Australian contribution.

“Likewise the British Prime Minister, Mr Blair, telephoned me in Auckland yesterday morning to confirm the request that had previously been conveyed by both (UK foreign minister) Jack Straw to Alexander Downer and (UK defence minister) Geoffrey Hoon to Robert Hill, the defence minister.”

Mr Howard said the taskforce will join Japanese forces in helping with tasks such as building new roads and schools in southern Iraq, and also will help train Iraqi security forces.

Al Muthanna province is less dangerous than areas around Baghdad and Iraq’s north, Mr Howard added.

“It’s a lot better and this is a much safer part of Iraq than the Sunni triangle.”

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