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DEFENCE Minister Brendan Nelson has declared Australia's involvement in Iraq is as important as the Kokoda Track campaign that turned back invading Japanese forces in World War II.
Dr Nelson has also conceded there will be no swift victory in Iraq and that the strife-torn nation will never adopt a Western-style democracy.
In a highly charged speech delivered at a defence conference, the minister also warned yesterday of a looming "do or die" offensive in Afghanistan by the Islamic Taliban militia that would put Australia's 550 troops in Oruzgan province in greater peril.
And he savaged Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd as not understanding the gravity of Australia's Iraqi involvement.
"Today we face something which is no less a risk to our culture, our values, our freedoms, our way of life than was presented to us in 1942," Dr Nelson said.