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Australian PM stands by Obama attack

Story Highlights

• Australian PM John Howard slams Barack Obama over opposition to Iraq war
• Howard says if he was al Qaeda, he would pray for Obama victory
• Obama: "Empty rhetoric" unless Howard sends 20,000 Australian troops
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CANBERRA, Australia (CNN) -- Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Monday stood by his comments from a day earlier when he said that terrorists should pray that Sen. Barack Obama and the Democrats take over the White House in 2008.

Both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. were telling Howard to butt out of American politics.

Speaking to Australia's ABC News Radio, Howard said his comments were aimed at the Illinois Democrat's plan to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq in March 2008.

"What I have done is to criticize Sen. Obama's views on a particular issue, and I don't retreat in any way from that criticism," Howard said. "I think if America is defeated in Iraq that will be catastrophic for the West and it will have tremendously adverse consequences for Australia."

Howard, who trails the opposition Labor Party in his re-election bid this year, criticized his opponents as being hypocritical.

"Apparently it's all right for people in the Labor Party to regularly criticize the Bush administration's policy on Iraq -- and they do that almost on a daily basis," Howard said. "Yet my criticism of the policy position of somebody who is not president -- and is not even the Democratic candidate for the presidency -- that is interfering in American politics and is absolutely to be forbidden."

On Sunday, Howard told an Australian TV program that, "If I were running al Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats."

Obama, campaigning in Iowa, told reporters Sunday that he was flattered that one of Bush's allies "started attacking me the day after I announced [a presidential run] -- I take that as a compliment."

The Democratic presidential hopeful said if the Australian prime minister was "ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq," he needs to send another 20,000 Australians to the war.

"Otherwise, it's just a bunch of empty rhetoric," Obama said.

Some of Howard's critics have suggested that the prime minister's close alliance with President Bush has distorted his judgment -- a criticism he brushed aside.

White House aides expressed surprise over Howard's criticism of Obama, but one senior administration official supported for the Australian leader: "Prime Minister Howard knows that setting a timeline for a withdrawal sends the wrong signal to our enemies."

Several Democrats and Republicans suggested Howard should butt out of the debate.

"I would prefer that Mr. Howard stay out of our domestic politics and we'll stay out of his domestic politics," Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, told CNN's "Late Edition." "But I think his point is that we're going to have to deal with terrorist organizations like al Qaeda. They're not giving up and we shouldn't give up in this battle of wills."

Speaking on the same program, Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden called Howard's comments "bizarre." "We'll make our own judgments in this country with respect to elections, and Barack Obama is a terrific public servant," Wyden said.

Obama declared his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in a speech on Saturday in his home state. (Obama makes his announcement Video)

Like Bush, Howard has come under increased criticism at home for supporting the unpopular war.

Australia has more than 1,000 troops in and around Iraq, many in noncombat roles.

Obama dismissed Howard's suggestion that his election would help terrorist groups, noting that even the Bush administration's "own intelligence agencies have indicated that the threat of terrorism has increased as a consequence of our actions over there."

Australian Prime Minister and staunch Bush supporter John Howard said a victory by Democrats in '08 would help terrorists.



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