SYDNEY - Prime Minister John Howard conceded he could face an anti-war backlash at this year's Australian elections similar to the protest vote that toppled Spain's conservative government in the aftermath of the Madrid bombings.
The admission came as Howard continued to deny a terrorist attack on Australia is now more likely because Australia, like Spain, supported the US-led war in Iraq -- despite statements to the contrary by experts, including his own police chief and the US FBI.
Alas they are likely to pay the price for Washington's misguided policies that have made brutal murderous terrorism, more, rather than less likely.
Doug Bandow, former senior aide to US president Ronald Reagan
Howard also vowed his government would not be cowed by terrorists amid mounting concerns that Spanish voters, by dumping their government, may have given Islamic terrorists a major victory that raises the risk of more attacks on Western democracies.
But he agreed some terrorist organizations could be emboldened by the defeat of prime minister Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party government following last week's bombings which claimed 200 lives and injured 1,500.
The Al-Qaeda network which was behind the September 11 attacks in the United States has purportedly claimed responsibility.
Asked if his government might face a voter backlash because of its support for the Iraq war, Howard told an Adelaide radio station: "That is one of the many things people will take into account in going to the polls later this year."
But he said he had no regrets about his decision to go to war in Iraq, adding: "It was in my view the right thing to do."
He said a majority of Australians would not want their government to be "intimidated, cowed and bullied" into changing its position on foreign policy issues because of terrorist threats.
"We are essentially a target for terrorists because of who we are rather than what we've done," he said. "I don't think we're as big a target as some other countries because we don't have terrorist cells operating in Australia."
The FBI's executive assistant director of counter terrorism John Pistole, visiting Sydney to address a counter-terrorism summit, earlier backed warnings that a terrorist attack in Australia is likely because of its support for the Iraq war.
"I would agree with the statement that an attack is likely inevitable," Pistole said.
But he agreed any Western nation was a terror target for Al-Qaeda.
Federal Police chief Mick Keelty and other experts have said that, if Islamic extremists were behind the Madrid bombings, it was probably because Spain, like Australia, supported the war in Iraq.
Pistole said he would hate to give the terrorists credit for influencing an election, but he added: "If that was the intended outcome and that was what was achieved then that raises the stakes in terms of the vulnerabilities and potentials that we must deal with."
A former senior aide to US president Ronald Reagan, Doug Bandow, who is now a senior fellow at Washington's Cato Institute, predicted Tuesday that Howard may eventually meet the same fate as Aznar.
"Alas they are likely to pay the price for Washington's misguided policies that have made brutal murderous terrorism, more, rather than less likely," he wrote in an article published by The Australian newspaper.
A US-based private sector intelligence unit Stratfor said Australia, like Spain, could be regarded by Al-Qaeda as "the soft underbelly" of the US alliance.
Stratfor said in an analysis of the Madrid bombings it was likely Al-Qaeda was behind the recent attack and it was no accident the bombing occurred just before the Spanish election.
It believed allied nations were prepared to stand with the US even in the face of general public opposition.
"If, however, the result of this alliance is massive civilian casualties, the equation shifts and the government runs into much more trouble," it added.
© Copyright 2004 AFP