– by Hanifa Abdiraihan
Australia will be stepping up its involvement in Iraq as Prime Minister Tony Abbott announces a significant addition to troop deployment to assist in training Iraqi forces.
Amidst mounting scepticism about whether the government has ‘learned its lesson from the past’, these developments are meant to be ‘Phase 2’ of Australia’s involvement in the region, in continuation from last September’s air contingents.
The decision, Abbott said, was made “in line with requests from the US and Iraqi governments”.
“It is absolutely and utterly in Australia’s national interest to do this… I don’t want anyone to underestimate the threat this [ISIS] death cult poses,” he said in a Canberra press conference earlier today.
He cited the influence ISIS has had in domestic attacks, such as the recent siege in Martin Place.
The training mission will be conducted jointly with New Zealand, whose prime minister announced it last week.
“The aim is to enrich the skills of the Iraqi army, in particular from individual capabilities, right up to brigade and battalion levels,” said Chief of Defence Force Mark Binskin, who also attended the press conference.
Abbott emphasised that the deployment will strictly be to train up Iraqi forces, per the request made to him by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
“The Iraqis believe it’s their job to recapture their country,” he said in rebuttal to those who questioned if it was a “mission creep”. “They don’t want foreign combat troops on the ground, and working with the Iraqis, we are doing what they have requested of us … and it’s not combat capability, it’s a training mission.”
The final decision to commit to the two-year mission will be in June, after which reviews will take place every twelve months. The mission will be judged against how “operationally effective” the Iraqi army is in reclaiming and holding territories.
The government is optimistic about the chances of success. “The campaign so far has been successful in stopping the advance of Daesh across Iraq,” said Binskin, adding that no significant gains were made by ISIS since October.
A massive percentage of Syria and Iraq is ISIS-controlled. It has been suggested that expansion is crucial to sustained funding due to its dependence on oil revenues, which contributes to its US$3 million daily income.
Around 300 troops are anticipated to be deployed to Taji, a predominantly Sunni district roughly 20 km north of Baghdad. Binskin has mentioned an upcoming media release with further details.
Around 170 from Australian Special Forces are currently deployed in Iraq. Their rotation will end in September.
“The challenge here is to disrupt, degrade, and ultimately destroy this death cult,” Abbott said.
“It would be wrong of me to say that this is the last that we will do here… [it] is prudent, proportionate, and builds on what’s already been done.”
The prime minister noted that he was “pleased and proud” to be carrying out the joint mission with New Zealand in the ANZAC centenary.
Photo credit: US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan