Mr Howard defended the new position, saying governments were not “immobilised in time” and refused to apologose for the change.

Tuesday’s suprise announcement that another 450 soldiers would go to Iraq to protect Japanese engineers and train local security forces broke an election promise not to substantially increase troop numbers.

“I admit quite openly that we have changed our position,” he told ABC radio.

“I’m not running away from the fact that I have previously said I did not contemplate a major increase and that was a fair statement of the government’s state of mind at the time I made that.”

The government said it changed its mind mainly because Iraq needed support in its move to democracy after the success of the January 30 elections.

Other reasons for the policy change were supporting regional partner Japan, and the need to train Iraqi security forces.

“I do not apologise at all for the fact that the government has changed its position, I acknowledge that I’ll be criticised for that,” Mr Howard said.

However opposition parties believes Australia should use the soldiers to fight terrorism closer to home.

Labor’s defence spokesman Robert McClelland said the government had more options than just agreeing to the request for more troops.

“It had an obligation to explain to Japan that our real strength in the fight against terrorism is in our region, it’s a region that’s common to Japan,” he told ABC Radio.

Mr McClelland said there was a risk that Australia would be dragged into a civil war in Iraq.

“We seem to be getting swept along with the tide, we have never stated what our objective is, when that objective’s going to be satisfied and when we can get out.”

“And there is a real risk that we’re going to be sucked into the quagmire of a civil war,” he said.

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