Sydney : Prime Minister John Howard Sunday denied reports that secret plans have been laid for withdrawing Australia's 1,400 troops from Iraq.
"The plan is so secret I don't know anything about it," Howard said, describing as "absurd" the suggestion that troops would be pulled out ahead of an election at the end of this year.
"I'm denying that story, full stop," the prime minister said.
Howard's commitment of troops to the 2003 invasion of Iraq was unpopular and the opposition Labor Party, which is ahead in the polls, has promised an immediate withdrawal.
Labor defence spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon gave credence to the notion of a secret plan canvassed in the local press, saying Howard had sensed a change in sentiment in the United States and Britain.
"He doesn't want to be caught with his pants down," Fitzgibbon said.