Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has paid his first visit to Baghdad and Iraq.
The trip comes in the wake of committing around 600 Australian Defence Force personnel to a US-led coalition force fighting Islamic State in Iraq’s north.
As Prime Minister, Abbott was far more circumspect than during his 2011 visit to Afghanistan as opposition leader, when he said “sometimes shit happens” while discussing the death of an Australian soldier with his surviving comrades.
The PM was accompanied by new defence minister Kevin Andrews and the Chief of Defence, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin.
Abbott told Australian troops at a BBQ lunch, that he’d hoped to visit them for Christmas, but was delayed by the Martin Place siege.
“I’m pleased to be here today to say ‘Happy New Year’ to you,” he said.
“I look forward to the chance to say g’day to most of you and I also want to have the chance to get your feedback on the work you’ve been doing over the last couple of months.”
He also met with Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi on Sunday to discuss military collaboration between the two nations. Australia has provided around 200 Australians military advisers to help Iraqi forces in their battle against IS, while 400 personnel are attached to the Air Task Group, which is operating six RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornets on bombing runs. The RAAF has made more than 180 sorties in northern and western Iraq attacking IS targets.
Abbott said the way in Iraq was “an important struggle”.
“It’s a struggle not just for the people of Iraq, and not just for the people of this region, but for the whole world – because the Daesh death cult, the ISIL death cult, has declared war against the world,” he said.
The Prime Minister hinted that Australia may look at committing additional resources in the fight against Islamic State saying “We are determined to deepen our cooperation with the government and the people of Iraq in the weeks and months to come: not because we are a country which goes forward seeking foreign fights, but because where our vital national interests are threatened, where universal values are at stake, Australia should be a strong partner.”
He said that prime minister Abadi “called on the Australian side to increase the arming and speed up the training and distribution of what is needed by the Iraqi forces” in the fight against IS.
Australia also pledged an additional $5 million in aid towards the World Food Program to help feed around 350,000 people in the next month.
There are now more than 5.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Iraq. More than 2.2 million have been driven from their homes following IS attacks and live in temporary shelters.
The government has now committed $22 million in aid since June 2014.
Australia’s deployment in Iraq is expected to cost around $260 million in the 2014/15 financial year.