Australia will send another 300 troops to Iraq as early as June following requests from the Iraqi and American governments to help stop the spread of the Islamic State in the Middle East.
Announcing the deployment on Tuesday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the contribution of troops was “prudent and proportionate” and was a matter of “domestic and international security”.
Australian soldiers will have no combat role, and will be stationed “inside the wire” near Baghdad to help train the Iraqi regular army in their fight against Islamic State jihadists.
The deployment will be part of a joint training mission with New Zealand, which is sending some 150 troops.
Mr Abbott said the decision was in Australia’s “national interests”.
“The decision marks the next phase of the Australian contribution to the international coalition to disrupt, degrade and ultimately defeat the Daesh or ISIL death cult,” Mr Abbott said.
“The Australian people want security at home, but you can’t have security at home without having security abroad.
“It is the Daesh death cult that is reaching out to us,” he said, adding that more than 100 Australians were fighting overseas with the Islamic State group.
The decision represents an almost 50 per cent increase in the amount of Australian “boots on the ground” in Iraq, but Mr Abbott denied the deployment was “mission creep”.
The prime minister said the operation would be reviewed every 12 months.
“We haven’t taken this decision lightly. Ultimately, it is Iraq that must defeat the death cult, but we don’t want to leave the Iraqis on their own,” he said.
“It’s their job to recapture their country.”
Defence Force Chief Mark Binskin said progress had been made in the coalition fight against the militant group, but the Iraqi army needed assistance to build their skills and capabilities.
“Since October, they’ve made no significant territorial gains,” Mr Binskin said of the Islamic State.
“They no longer fly their flags in the open and their leaders no longer wear uniforms.”
“Now more than ever it’s important for us to focus on the development of the Iraqi security forces to secure their borders and allow the restoration of their government.”
There are 170 Australian special forces soldiers currently deployed in Iraqi to help train Iraqi troops.
Mr Abbott said that contingent’s rotation would end in September, but would not rule out “additional work for them” at this stage.
The announcement was almost overshadowed by the decision to place a total of eight flags behind the prime minister.
Social media users joked about a “33 per cent flag inflation” since Mr Abbott’s national security press conference last Monday, which featured a generous six flags.
— The New Daily (@TheNewDaily_) March 3, 2015
33% flag inflation since last Monday.
— Bernard Keane (@BernardKeane) March 3, 2015
— Därius Mathiäs Körma (@geeksrulz) March 3, 2015
it’s an eight flag press conference. how long before he just comes out wearing one as a cape. #8flags
— Scott Ludlam (@SenatorLudlam) March 3, 2015
TONY: can you flag that email for me peta PETA: y- TONY: can you also flag some coffee PETA: b- TONY: iraq. say we flag it. whadya reckon
— Tiger Webb (@tfswebb) March 3, 2015