Prime Minister Tony Abbott has suggested Australia is prepared to send military forces to Iraq if that’s what is needed to prevent genocide by the “murderous hordes” fighting for Islamic State.
Mr Abbott on Tuesday said he agreed with US President Barack Obama that the situation in northern Iraq was “potential genocide”.
“No one wants to stand aside in the face of a potential genocide,” the prime minister said following talks with the British prime minister, senior UK ministers and intelligence officers in London.
Asked if that could include military action Mr Abbott replied: “Well we certainly don’t rule that out.”
“We are talking to our security partners about what we can usefully do to help,” Mr Abbott said.
“The United Kingdom and Australia, and the United States, are acutely conscious of the potential for genocide on Mount Sinjar and elsewhere in northern Iraq and we will do what we reasonably can to protect people.”
The Liberal leader stressed there was a fundamental difference between getting involved to prevent genocide and past western interventions in the region for “geopolitical objectives”.
“This is a fundamentally humanitarian mission designed to protect innocent men, women and children from the murderous hordes that currently confront them,” he said, adding terrorists had been “crucifying, decapitating, summarily executing people and dealing in a hideous way with woman and children as well as with men”.
It’s thought 60 Australians are fighting with Islamic State or offshoots in Iraq and Syria. Another 90 Australians are likely supporting them from back home.
Mr Abbott said he was conscious other countries had a greater capacity to act militarily but insisted “Australia is not without capacity and we want to use the capacity we have for good”.
He refused to say if he’d discussed the issue with Mr Obama but AAP understands he hasn’t because Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister David Johnston have held talks with their US counterparts John Kerry and Chuck Hagel in Sydney.
Jihadist militants have attacked the large town of Sinjar forcing thousands of mainly Yazidi civilians to flee up a mountain and hide there with little food and water.
An international effort is underway to deliver aid to them and hundreds of thousands of other refugees in Kurdistan.
Mr Abbott on Tuesday confirmed Australian aircraft will “shortly” join the humanitarian effort.
It’s expected two RAAF C-130 transporters will be assisting with airdrops by the end of the week.
The planes, based in Al Minhad in the United Arab Emirates, are awaiting aid supplies to arrive from Australia.
Mr Abbott on Tuesday spoke with David Cameron on the phone as the British prime minister is currently on holiday overseas.
But he talked in person with UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.
The Australian PM also met with the chairman of the UK joint intelligence committee, John Day, and received a broader security briefing at Thames House.
He’ll depart for Australia on Wednesday morning arriving home on Thursday night Australian time.