Australia's elite SAS soldiers are ready to swoop into Baghdad to rescue diplomats if the bloody fighting in Iraq's north reaches the capital, Fairfax Media has been told.
It is also understood Australia could fly surveillance plane missions as part of a broader US-led effort to beat back the jihadist forces that have established bases in the Iraqi city of Mosul and north-eastern Syria, though Washington had made no request as of Monday night.
Fairfax Media understands the SAS would be deployed only if security in Baghdad deteriorated to the extent that staff could not be removed safely without the protection of the special forces. But the SAS has been used this way before, notably to evacuate diplomats from East Timor in 1999.
If bloody fighting in Iraq's north threatens diplomats in Baghdad, Australian SAS troops are ready to swoop, Fairfax Media has been told. Photo: Corporal Raymond Vance
The Sunni militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continued their advances in the country's north-west, taking the city of Tal Afar and circulating notices calling on police, soldiers and other ''non-believers'' to report to mosques and repent, setting up computer lists of men expected to express remorse for their actions under the imminent threat of violence or death.
Karl Schembri, the Middle East regional media manager for Save the Children, said that initial estimates of 500,000 Iraqis displaced now looked conservative, and the true figure could be closer to a million. He called upon the international community to increase humanitarian relief.
''The bombardment from the Iraqi air strikes has been continuous,'' said 30-year-old Amr Abdullah from the village of al-Auja . ''We have not got any food at all and we didn't bring enough mattresses, but we had to leave, we had no choice.''