Image: Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
Mark Baker  /  AP
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, with his wife Janette and son Tim,  addresses his party faithful to claim victory in Australia's election, in Sydney, on Saturday.
updated 10/11/2004 1:17:32 AM ET 2004-10-11T05:17:32

Prime Minister John Howard, fresh from winning an election mandate to keep Australian troops in Iraq as long as needed, said Monday he would not increase that deployment and he would make the war on terror a top priority of his fourth term.

Australia currently has 900 soldiers in and around Iraq in noncombat roles. No Australian troops have been killed in the war.

“We do not have any plans for any significant increase in our deployment in Iraq,” Howard said Monday.

The opposition Labor Party had vowed to bring the soldiers home by Christmas if it won; Howard insisted they would stay until Iraqis ask them to leave.

War on terror a priority
As well as keeping the economy strong, Howard said his government would continue cooperation “with our allies both in the region and around the world in the fight against terrorism.”

Australia’s six-week election campaign was interrupted in September by a terror bombing of Canberra’s embassy in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta that killed nine people. On Tuesday, the nation will mourn the 88 Australians killed in the Oct. 12, 2002, bombings on the island of Bali blamed on al-Qaida-linked terrorists.

Saturday’s election was widely seen abroad as the first referendum for the three leaders who launched the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, with President Bush facing a ballot next month and British Prime Minister Tony Blair probably facing voters next year. Bush and Blair both phoned Howard to congratulate him on his victory.

The election gave Howard an increased majority in Parliament’s lower house and the possibility of controlling the Senate for the first time in his nearly nine years in office.

Howard said Monday that control of both houses of Parliament would not result in any abrupt changes in policy.

“It is not a mandate to do reckless, destructive things and we are not going to do either,” he said.

Howard, 65, who is not expected to serve a full three-year term, refused to speculate on how long he would remain prime minister.

He also said he would spend several days picking his new Cabinet, but Alexander Downer would remain foreign minister and Peter Costello likely would remain Treasurer, the government’s chief finance minister.

Saturday’s victory was credited to the government campaign warning voters that Australia’s strong economy — with low unemployment, inflation and interest rates — would be frittered away by a Labor government.

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