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Australia at war in Iraq edging closer

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Mark Kenny and David Wroe

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Islamic State a 'death cult': PM

The government won't stand by in the face of preventable genocide says the Prime Minister.

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The prospect of Australian participation in a war against Islamic State fighters in Iraq is edging closer with both Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten in lockstep yesterday branding the militants respectively "a death cult" and "an enemy of humanity".

In powerful statements to Parliament, the two leaders took a common position in declaring that Australia and its allies and partners could not stand by while innocent people were slaughtered.

Kurdish fighters fire towards Islamic State positions during clashes south of Kirkuk, Iraq.

Kurdish fighters fire towards Islamic State positions during clashes south of Kirkuk, Iraq. Photo: AFP

Building the moral case for intervention, Mr Abbott said that Australians "in good conscience … cannot leave the Iraqi people to face this horror, this pure evil alone, or ask others to do so in the name of human decency what we won't do ourselves".

Mr Shorten went beyond the declarations by both Mr Abbott and US President Barack Obama, designating the atrocities carried out by the Islamic State as "genocide".

Australia is yet to receive a request from Washington for deeper military involvement such as help with air strikes. But the RAAF is poised to begin deliveries of weapons and munitions to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, who are bearing the brunt of the fight in northern Iraq against heavily armed Islamic State fighters.

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But there is little doubt Australia would respond favourably to any such request, with Mr Abbott insisting that a failure to act was both morally unconscionable and strategically dangerous.

"Doing anything involves serious risks and weighty consequences," he said. "But doing nothing involves risks and consequences too.

"As things stand, doing nothing means leaving millions of people exposed to death, forced conversion and ethnic cleansing.

"I refuse to call this hideous movement 'Islamic State' because it's not a state, it is a death cult."

The issue dominated Parliament on Monday, with MPs in both houses debating further involvement, underscoring the growing momentum towards a military campaign.

Mr Shorten left no doubt as to the Opposition's support for intervention, describing national security as "above politics".

"The inescapable fact is that genocide is being perpetrated against defenceless people and we cannot co-operate with this evil by refusing to support the innocent," he said.

Mr Shorten branded the Islamic State, "an enemy of humanity, engaged in crimes against humanity".

The Opposition Leader pointedly dismissed any suggestion that the current situation was similar to the 2003 "Coalition of the Willing" invasion of Iraq.

"In 2003, we went to Iraq without international support and without the support of the majority of the Iraqi population," he said.

"Today, the Iraqi government is speaking with the international community, seeking our humanitarian assistance." 

Rodger Shanahan, a former Army officer and now a Middle East expert at the Lowy Institute, said the arms deliveries would go a long way to bolstering the Kurdish forces, in concert with the US air strikes, but warned the conflict would be brutal and bloody.

"They'll be a blip in history but they'll be a bloody blip and they'll be nasty to get rid of," he said. "They'll go, but somebody's got to get rid of them."

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the aim of the arms deliveries was to "make the Peshmerga strong enough so that they can defend themselves".

But she also acknowledged the risk of arms provided by Australia falling into the hands of other terrorists.

"There are always risks but as I've said, we've been weighing these carefully, not only in Australia but all of the nations involved."

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336 comments

  • Seen the movie "Wag the Dog"? Now starring Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten.

    Australia once again showing its "please like me" immaturity has learned nothing from the past about getting involved in conflicts that we need not to.

    Commenter
    Captain Grumpy
    Location
    Kingsville
    Date and time
    September 02, 2014, 6:46AM
    • This is ridiculous. Sorry I am not denying there are issues around the world but why do we have to continuously run after being a fix it country? We never make our own decisions, we do it when America wants us to do it. If they spend the same amount of military money to fix our issues here first then id be happy to consider helping in the future.

      Commenter
      The Other Guy1
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 7:44AM
    • I have no problem with the USA as a whole. Unlike many, I am not rabid anti-USA everything and pro every terrorist that hates them because the simple fact is we have done better under a US dominated world than we would under many of the alternatives (including an Islamic state based world). However, I am not a slavish follower and it disturbs me, almost as if these wars are a 'jobs creation programme' for both parties as wars means materials and materials mean minerals (and what do we have plenty off). I look to my leaders of political parties not to be fanatics in anything except social progress (well there Tony Abbott out for a start and Bill Shorten is nothing more than a knife-man wearing a Labor suit but a Liberal in disguise). Its about time, when we tell the sick and elderly, we can't afford pensions and need to extend the retirement age, we can build public transport infrastructure, but we can find money (and mugs it seems) to send people to die in a war that will never be won. We would be better tightening up our migration programme, making sure we have appropriate laws to deal with these people and invest in a home based police force instead of joining G.I. Joe adventures for the gonad challenged LNP and Labor.

      Commenter
      Andrew
      Location
      Glenlyon
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 7:49AM
    • Entering this conflict directly would be a mistake, these guys want to fight the west, there is only so much support and people they can get to kill locals, but the prospect of killing US, British and Australian solders would bring them a whole swag of new fighters. Help the locals help them selves, give them Food, medicine, logistical support and ammo' and they will sort it out them selves.

      Commenter
      HB
      Location
      Berwick
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 7:53AM
    • "How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing" Neville Chamberlain, Sep 27. 1938

      Commenter
      Louis Cypher
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 8:10AM
    • Appeasement:

      "The word in its normal meaning connotes the pacific settlement of disputes; in the meaning usually applied to the period of Neville Chamberlain premiership, it has come to indicate something sinister, the granting from fear or cowardice of unwarranted concessions in order to buy temporary peace at someone else's expense." David Dilks. Historian

      Commenter
      Louis Cypher
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 8:12AM
    • To the Party Room:
      "Mission accomplished. We've finally got the budget off the front page!"

      Commenter
      rext
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 8:14AM
    • This is classic blow back form the illegal war started by the Americans.

      Let them waste their money sorting out their mess they created.

      Commenter
      keshi
      Location
      Latrobe Marginal Electorate
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 8:21AM
    • The Arab League should be the main participants in this one while we assist them rather than being a totally outside force which causes more turmoil than it solves.

      Commenter
      Good Logic
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 8:27AM
    • The ultimate irony here is that ISIS exists today because of what Australia and the "coalition" did in Iraq 10 years ago. Howard's invasion helped create the perfect breeding ground for Abbot's "Death Cult"- which was a minor splinter group back then. By all means go back and clean up the mess, but Abbott should accept responsibility for the consequences of his government's actions and resign. Like he said prior to the election - this was a "re-election" not a brand new government. He can't have it both ways.

      Commenter
      Realist
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 8:31AM

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