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Australian troops end combat mission in Iraq

02 June, 2008

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SYDNEY: Australian troops have ended their combat mission in Iraq and are withdrawing from the country, Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said.

The 550-strong force will leave their base in southern Iraq, fulfilling a promise made by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ahead of his election last November to bring troops home from the conflict by mid-year.

"The Overwatch Battle Group and the Australian army training team formally ceased operations at a ceremony at Camp Terendak at Tallil," the Australian Defence Force said in a statement.

In Iraq, local governor Aziz Kadoum Alwan said the soldiers left Dhi Qar and Muthanna provinces after a flag-lowering ceremony.

The Overwatch Battle Group soldiers had been based at Tallil air base, about 300 kilometres (186 miles) south of Baghdad, where they had been providing security training for local forces, and carrying out reconstruction and aid work.

Fitzgibbon said the withdrawal of the troops would close another chapter in Australian military history.

"Our soldiers have worked tirelessly to ensure that local people in southern Iraq have the best possible chance to move on from their suffering under Saddam`s regime and, as a government, we are extremely proud of their service," he said in a statement.

Details of the soldiers` return to Australia were not immediately available, but a spokesman for the minister said it would be completed by the government`s deadline of mid-2008.

"They will be moved home over the course of the next month," he said.

Iraqis working for Australia in the war-torn nation will also be resettled in Australia after the government announced in April it would be offering them permanent residency.

Australia joined the US-led campaign in Iraq in early 2003 but no Australian Defence Force troops were killed in combat in the country.

The Iraq campaign was unpopular in Australia and was a key point of difference between Labor leader Rudd and conservative former prime minister and staunch George W. Bush ally John Howard at the November election.

Canberra will still have 1,000 personnel deployed in support of the war but only a small security and liaison force will remain in Iraq itself. Most will be working from nearby countries on two maritime surveillance aircraft and a warship which helps patrol offshore oil platforms.


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