Australia to send weapons to Iraq

Tony Abbott has agreed to Australia delivering arms and munitions to Kurdish forces in Iraq to assist them in their fight against Islamic State (IS) militants. But despite having the backing of Labor leader Bill Shorten, the Greens and independent MP Andrew Wilkie have called for a full parliamentary debate and vote before any deployments.

Mr Abbott announced yesterday that Australia would join other nations to help arm Kurdish forces, with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) stating it would be more dangerous to do nothing. Speaking at the same conference as the Prime Minister, ADF chief Mark Binskin said: “The greater risk here is actually doing nothing.”  When asked about the ramifications of the equipment falling into the wrong hands, Tony Abbott responded, “My understanding is that the regional government in Irbil has provided to the Americans, to the Iraqis and to others an assurance that the weapons that we will be helping to transport into Irbil will be used by the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdish regional government.”

In expressing his support for the move, Bill Shorten agreed that despite the risk in arming the Kurds, it was a greater risk to allow IS to  “to succeed in their war in northern Iraq”.

The request to arm Kurdish troops came from the Obama administration and had the full backing of the Iraqi government. Speaking to reporters in Canberra, Tony Abbott said that any request by the US for greater military action, such as air strikes would be considered using the criteria of there being a role for Australian forces, a full safety assessment and risk analysis, the overall humanitarian benefit and an achievable overall objective.

The Prime Minister would not, however, guarantee his previous comments about not sending combat troops, including special forces, saying that be did not want “to get into the business of making operational commitments or giving operational guarantees”. He did reiterate President Obama’s sentiments that there was no role for combat troops on the ground. “None of us want to get involved in another Middle Eastern war,” Abbott said.

He also went on to reject calls by Andrew Wilkie and Greens leader Christine Milne to hold any deployment until it had been discussed and voted on by parliament. “There are all sorts of circumstances in which Australian forces could be deployed, must be deployed, where you couldn’t have a parliamentary debate prior to their deployment,” he said.

Greens leader Christine Milne said that while there was no doubt IS was “carrying out horrendous crimes against humanity”, Mr Abbott needed to demonstrate the need for Australia to be involved in military action.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said, “The key point is that the government must not make a decision about a combat role for Australia in Iraq, must not make a decision about deploying forces of any kind, unless and until the Australian parliament debates it and forms a view and votes on it.”


Opinion: Who knows best?

The world is in turmoil. Everywhere you look there is unrest and a real danger that a major military event is on the cards, so should we do nothing, or be led by those who know best?

Having experienced the fall-out from the previous Iraq war where forces were deployed to deal with the threat of ‘weapons of mass destruction’, only for post-war inquests to find no evidence to support this claim, it’s difficult to trust any justification for military action in this part of the world. Iraq has been in conflict for as long as most of us can remember and no military intervention seems to be offering a solution. So why, yet again led by the US, does Australia and other nations, seem so keen to get involved? We know from numerous previous experiences that arming one side in a conflict generally comes back to bite you on the bum. Yet here we are preparing to hand over weapons and military to a group which are today deemed to be the ‘good guys’, or at least ‘slightly better than the other guys’, with no real plan to deal with any unfortunate consequences of this action.

As pointed out by Andrew Wilkie, who, having previously been an army officer and intelligence analyst with the Office of National Assessments, the Prime Minister is under no obligation to take the matter to parliament, as the executive, i.e. the Prime Minster, is authorised to make such a decision. Yet Mr Abbott seems reluctant to do so. I can’t help but think that this is a ‘rush job’, and despite bipartisan agreement, taking the time to fully discuss and vote in parliament wouldn’t really cause any great delay. Unless of course the Prime Minister and Bill Shorten fear their actions will be rejected.

Should Australia be agreeing to the US request for arms and munitions deployment? Should it be discussed in parliament? Do you fear that through ‘mission creep’ Australia is being sucked into another war in the Middle East? Is the real concern that Australian governments of any complexion, still cannot say “No” to the USA.

Written by Debbie McTaggart