Read here full article "Mr Howard's refusal to acknowledge the obvious for months has been irresponsible. Now that he is accepting reality, he must show some leadership and change direction by setting a timetable for withdrawal. The continuing coalition presence is doing nothing to stabilise Iraq.
Prime Minister John Howard admits the war in Iraq is going very badly and he would like troops out as soon as possible.
But he says that will only occur when Iraqi forces can handle security themselves.
In a week when America's new defence secretary, Robert Gates, acknowledged the US was not winning the war in Iraq, and a high level report admitted the strategy was not working, Mr Howard finally conceded the war was going "very badly".
Howard told Southern Cross Broadcasting:
"Certainly things in Iraq are going very badly. I would like to be out of Iraq as soon as possible, but I'm not going to make myself, in any way, a hostage to a particular date.The government was not available to comment on reports that Australia had turned down a request from the US that it embed its troops with Iraqi units as part of a plan to get Iraq capable of looking after itself.
Bear in mind that (US) President (George W) Bush has not made himself hostage to a particular date.
He is not putting a date on it. In none of the discussions I had with him, and I had two separate discussions with him in Vietnam, did he commit to a date.
There will be changes in American policy, of that I'm certain ... (but) I believe the biggest single change will be that they will require the Iraqis to do a lot more.
The exit strategy is to go when the coalition is satisfied that the country can reasonably look after itself."
Mr Howard maintains the only plan for exit is when the Iraqis can control security of their own country.
Iraq will dominate discussions when Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Defence Minister Brendan Nelson travel to Washington next week for the annual Australia-United States ministerial meeting.
Labor is demanding Mr Howard release a definitive plan of when and how Australian troops will be withdrawn from Iraq.
Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd said Mr Howard had dodged the question in parliament this week.
"He's still not giving us those concrete answers, that's our problem," he told the Seven Network.
Australian Democrats deputy leader Andrew Bartlett says Mr Howard's admission of failure in the war had to lead to a withdrawal of forces.Senator Bartlett added:
It is widely recognised that our presence with no end in sight is creating more problems than it is worth."
"Mr Howard's refusal to acknowledge the obvious for months has been irresponsible.
Now that he is accepting reality, he must show some leadership and change direction by setting a timetable for withdrawal.
The continuing coalition presence is doing nothing to stabilise Iraq.