Iraq to be a Vietnam: retired general

Australia’s involvement in Iraq would end in disaster just like Vietnam, a retired general said today.

Major General Alan Stretton said the Government would eventually bow to public pressure and withdraw the troops, leaving behind a bloody mess.

Prime Minister John Howard has rejected comparisons with Vietnam, saying such analogies are misplaced.

Maj Gen Stretton, who served as chief of staff of the Australian force in Vietnam from 1969-70 but is best remembered for his role heading relief operations in Darwin following Cyclone Tracy in 1974, said there could never be democracy in Iraq.

He said the Government was being irresponsible in sending even more troops.

“I really believe it will go the same way as Vietnam,” he told the John Laws radio program on 2UE.

“It will get no better – (only) worse – and eventually public opinion in both the US and Australia and elsewhere will demand our troops come back and when they do they will be pretending that the locals can handle it all themselves, and we will just leave a bloody mess.”

Prime Minister John Howard this week announced that Australia would send a 450-strong task force to southern Iraq to protect Japanese engineers rebuilding the largely peaceful Al Muthanna province.

Mr Howard said Iraq was at “tilting point” following last month’s democratic elections.

Maj Gen Stretton said Australia should not have been involved in Iraq in the first place as there were no weapons of mass destruction and no links with al-Qaeda.

“The whole lot of it has turned into a bloody civil war,” he said.

“All we are doing is reinforcing disaster. I just cannot understand it.”

Maj Gen Stretton said Iraq was already going the way of Vietnam.

“You would have noticed the Prime Minister use a new word … tilting. That is the same as the graduated response in Vietnam,” he said.

“In other words you just put a bit more in to stop it tilting the wrong way. It will end up exactly the same way. The whole thing is flawed strategy.”

He said Iraq could never be democratic.

“This talk about fighting for democracy, that is absolute, to use a phrase, bullshit,” he said.

“You have three different people in three virtually different areas. The most you could have would be some sort of loose confederation.”

Mr Howard said last night there was no analogy between Iraq and Vietnam.

“I don’t wish to be disrespectful to a retired major-general who’s fought for his country, but I think these analogies with Vietnam are misplaced, and many other people think they are, too,” he told ABC’s Lateline program.

“I accept the historical facts about Vietnam. I also know the historical facts about Iraq, and they are totally different situations.”
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