Australian Prime Minister Rudd visits Iraq

Dec. 22, 2007 at 4:44 PM

BAGHDAD, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a surprise visit to his country's troops stationed in Iraq.

Rudd visited Australian troops deployed to protect Iraqi infrastructure and train the war-torn country's police forces. He also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, U.S. Gen. David Patraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, The Australian reported Saturday.

Roughly 1,000 Australian troops remain in Iraq, but 550 soldiers participating in the Overwatch Battle Group based at Tallil may return to Australia by August, the prime minister said.

Rudd, defense force chief Angus Houston and Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon expressed gratitude for the troops' service and swore to upholding his election promise of bringing them home.

"You here, as part of this battle group, will be the last battle group we deploy," Rudd said.

Australian troops trained roughly 25,000 Iraqis for the local police force and hope to bring that number to 30,000 before returning to Australia.

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