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Aust closely monitoring Iraq

AAP
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The Australian government continues to closely monitor the situation in Iraq and will “weigh up” sending military or other support if asked.

The Sunni militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS, has taken over key cities in northern Iraq and is in striking distance of the capital Baghdad.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has warned the country could become a terrorist state if the militants take the capital and could be a security disaster for the Middle East and the wider world.

US President Barack Obama on Thursday pledged to take military action if needed against the radicals and offered 300 advisors to train Iraqi forces.

Australia has already committed $5 million in humanitarian assistance to help in Iraq, with the money going to the UNHCR and World Food Programme.

On Friday, Coalition frontbencher Christopher Pyne said Australia would consider sending military support if requested by the US or Iraqi governments.

“The United States obviously has to lead any kind of response in Iraq as they are the world power, if you like,” Mr Pyne told Nine Network on Friday.

“If they ask us for assistance, we’ll weigh that up at the time and decide what we can or can’t do. The situation in Iraq is obviously very, very serious.”

Mr Pyne said the Iraqi government had not yet asked Australia for assistance.

But he emphasised the west can’t allow Iraq to “disappear” into a sectarian civil war.

He said Mr Abbott, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and the government’s national security Committee are closely monitoring the situation.

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese on Friday described ISIL fighters as “nut jobs”, and said the west needs to be “very cautious about interventions”.

“They have an extremist ideology that would seek to do harm to anyone who doesn’t agree with them,” he told Nine Network.

The Australian government has begun withdrawing embassy staff from Baghdad and has contingency plans in place to keep other staff safe.