Iraq a mistake for Australia:U.S. expert

CANBERRA, Australia, AP

The Iraq invasion was a major mistake in the global war on terror, a U.S. expert said at an Australian security conference Tuesday.

Daniel Benjamin, senior fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., told the Australia Homeland Security Conference by satellite link that the United States had played into al-Qaida’s hands by invading Iraq.

“I fear our government has led you (Australia) wrong on this one,” Benjamin said. “By invading Iraq, we brought the targets to the killers.”

The invasion by U.S., British and Australian troops had “confirmed” al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s argument that infidels want to occupy Muslim lands and destroy Islam, Benjamin said in his keynote address.

“Instead of undermining our opponents’ (argument), we validated it,” said Benjamin, a terrorism expert who served on former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council.

“We’ve allowed the war on terrorists to be mischaracterized as a war against Islam and this has been a major mistake,” he said.

The U.S.-led coalition has provided Muslim extremists with an unparalleled training ground in Iraq, he added.

Australia’s government last year sent 2,000 troops to help U.S. and British forces invade Iraq, sparking the biggest street demonstrations here since the Vietnam War. There are still has about 850 Australian military personnel in and around Iraq.

At the conference, Australia’s Attorney General Philip Ruddock said Australia’s involvement in the war had not increased the terrorist threat.

“Australia was a target for terrorist activity long before Australia was engaged in Iraq,” Ruddock told reporters at the conference. “We are a target because of what we are and who, and the idea that you can roll yourself up in a little ball and hope that you won’t be noticed, I think, is naive.”