US used me, says veteran

By Greg Ansley

Matt Howard came to Sydney this week to shame his Australian namesake, Prime Minister John Howard, and castigate his own President, George W. Bush.

As Bush flew towards Australia after visiting troops in Iraq, and Prime Minister Howard winced at the latest appalling poll predicting a landslide to Labor in this year's election, the 26-year-old former Marine made a sobering confession.

"In 2003 I illegally invaded the sovereign nation of Iraq with the 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division," he said.

"The man that is still, sadly, my commander-in-chief arrives [last night] unwelcome in Sydney.

"He unleashed the world's fiercest fighting force upon the country and people of Iraq, and now those of us used and betrayed by him are demanding justice."

Former Marine Howard, who survived two tours in Iraq, is at the vanguard of a movement determined to use the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit to strengthen opposition to the continued occupation of Iraq.

John Howard, and yesterday Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, also used the huge Apec media pack to promote Australia's continued presence in the south of Iraq, citing both the need to support an ally and Baghdad's inability to crush the violence racking the nation.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson has also tried to muster support, claiming after a visit to diggers in the Gulf that Australian soldiers do not want to leave until their work is completed, and that they have been angered by Labor Leader Kevin Rudd's intention to bring them home if he wins the election.

Bush will also use Apec to bolster Australian resolve. He intends to meet Rudd during his time in Sydney, and to advise him against withdrawing diggers training and supporting Iraqi security forces and protecting diplomats and officials in Baghdad.

He is not likely to succeed.

Although Rudd will withdraw troops only after consultation with Washington, they will come home.

And Rudd is increasingly likely to be Prime Minister after the election, with the latest Newspoll placing him 11 percentage points ahead of Howard as Australia's preferred leader, and his party 18 points ahead of the Government.

Rudd, according to the polls, also has majority support for withdrawal from Iraq - a sentiment that will be brought home in the streets of Sydney with a march police do not want to happen.

Matt Howard is here to add his voice to the Apec clamour.

He is an activist with the Iraq Veterans Against the War movement, which he claims is now gathering wide support from serving members of the US forces, reminiscent of similar anger during the Vietnam war.

"The Vietnam war ended when soldiers put down their weapons and refused to fight, when pilots dropped their bombs in the ocean," he said.

"We are re-educating the public to let them know that the power ultimately lies with the people - which is why there are thousands of pages of internal documents from the Department of Defence explicitly detailing how at the end of the Vietnam war the military was literally in a state of collapse, a state of mutiny."

Matt Howard said the war in Iraq was waged against its people: "We killed women. We killed children. We killed farm animals ... We left a swathe of death and destruction."

He said US troops had been ordered, under threat of court martial, to run over children in the way of speeding convoys, they raided and destroyed the homes of "innocent Iraqis" every night, and abused and tortured prisoners.

Attacking John Howard as well as Bush, Matt Howard described Bush as a war criminal now making threats against Iran.

"If Apec is really about prosperity for the people of the region, then it should be an opportunity for the leaders to raise the issue of Iraq and the need for foreign policies that bring peace, justice and an end to this costly war."

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