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Boost for Obama from Australia
The Guardian
Ewen MacAskill in Washington Monday February 12, 2007

Barack Obama, one of the leading Democratic candidates for next year's presidential race, received an early and unexpected boost yesterday when the Australian prime minister, John Howard, criticised his anti-war stance.

The attack by the close ally of President George Bush and vocal supporter of the war in Iraq, came just hours after Mr Obama formally announced in Springfield, Illinois, that he would seek the Democratic nomination.

Breaking the convention that foreign leaders do not interfere in domestic political campaigns, Mr Howard rounded on Mr Obama, who is strongly opposed to the war in Iraq, for demanding that all US troops leave Iraq by March 31 next year.

Mr Howard said: "I think that will just encourage those who want to completely destabilise and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and a victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for an Obama victory," Mr Howard said in a television interview. "If I were running al-Qaida in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and be praying ... for a victory, not only for Obama but also for the Democrats."

The Illinois senator is a frontrunner, along with Hillary Clinton, for the Democratic nomination. Although Mrs Clinton has a more established team and has already raised $14m (£7.1m) in funds, Mr Obama has a reputation as the more exciting. He has attracted experienced campaigners to his team and is expected to match Mrs Clinton in fundraising.

Mr Howard's intervention helps Mr Obama by highlighting his opposition to the war, in contrast to Mrs Clinton, who voted for it in the Senate in 2002 but now distances herself from it. Democratic activists are strongly opposed to the war. Mr Obama, 45, will also be helped by American irritation that a foreign leader should intervene in their election.

Robert Gibbs, Mr Obama's press secretary, said Mr Howard was not in a position to be overly critical. "If prime minister Howard truly believes what he says, perhaps his country should find its way to contribute more than just 1,400 troops so some American troops can come home. It's easy to talk tough when it's not your country or your troops making the sacrifice."

Original Text