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Prime Minister Tony Abbott has confirmed that Washington made a "general request" to Australia for more military help in Iraq and has declared that the beheading of a second American journalist "abundantly justifies" intervention.
Video 'abundantly justifies' Iraq action: PM
The Prime Minister says the beheading of Steven Sotloff shows ISIL is a threat not just to the Middle East, but the wider world.
In remarks on Wednesday that offer the clearest indication yet that Australia will become more involved in military action in Iraq, Mr Abbott revealed that the government had been asked whether it would, in principle, contribute to a wider, US-led military campaign.
"We have received no specific request to engage in actual military action against ISIL," he said, using the alternative name for the brutal Islamic State group. "Nevertheless, we have received a general request and we are considering what we may be able to make available."
His comments came after the RAAF made its first delivery of munitions to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, who are bearing the brunt of the battle against heavily armed Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq.
The giant C-17 transport plane delivered ammunition for small arms such as AK-47 weapons to the Kurdish city of Erbil on Tuesday night, Australian time.
Even as the crew returned safely to the Al Minhad Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, news was breaking that an online video had appeared purportedly showing the execution by beheading of a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff.
Mr Abbott said the sickening video "abundantly justifies what Australia and other countries are doing … to protect people who are at risk from this murderous rage".
Mr Abbott again stressed that no "specific request" had come from Washington for military help and "no specific decision has been made".
But he continued to ramp up his blistering rhetoric to lay out the case for intervention, saying that "you have to go back to the Middle Ages to see this arrogance in atrocity which we have seen from the ISIL movement in recent months".
Both the US and Australian governments have downplayed any prospect of a return of Western combat troops to Iraq.
But a former US Ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey, said the Islamic State threat was so great that the US and its partners needed to be prepared to put combat boots on the ground if that was needed.
"We're in one of those defining moments in the Middle East – it's like after 9/11. These things have to work," he told Fairfax Media. "And in the end, the United States, with or without Barack Obama, will put enough juice into it, including ultimately potentially boots on the ground, to defeat ISIS."
Mr Jeffrey, who met Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's office and Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek, said combat forces were a last resort, as Western boots on the ground produced "all sorts of antibodies" of antagonism in the Middle East.
But the former diplomat, who is visiting Australia as a guest of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said the militants were trying to draw the major powers in the Middle East into a Sunni-Shiite sectarian war, and needed to be stopped.