World / Asia-Pacific

Australia to deploy special forces troops in Iraq

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-10-20 13:38

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CANBERRA -- Australia will send around 200 of its Special Forces to Baghdad to advise and assist Iraqi troops after Foreign Minister Julie Bishop finalized legal arrangements for their deployment on Monday.

Bishop said she had settled the legal framework during meetings with Iraqi government leaders in Baghdad on Saturday and Sunday, about a month after the special forces members were sent to the Middle East.

The 200 Special Forces members, as well as an additional 400 air force personnel, have been in the United Arab Emirates since September in preparation for Australia's deployment approval.

Now, they will be sent to Iraq, where they will maintain a strictly advisory role alongside Iraqi troops in their fight against Islamic State (ISIL) militants.

"I received briefings from Iraqi leaders and international coalition partners on the campaign against ISIL and the current political situation," Bishop said in a statement on Monday.

"I emphasized the importance of the Iraqi government's efforts to deliver policies that share power and resources amongst Iraq's various communities."

"I also met groups of minority leaders to hear their concerns and to underline Australia's close interest in the protection of minorities in Iraq."

In moving into the region, Australian commandos will assist Iraqi Security Forces, but Bishop reiterated that Australian troops will not be placed on the ground to fight alongside Iraqi soldiers.

"We've not been asked and we've not offered (to send troops to Iraq)," Bishop said on Sunday. "So I do not envisage that being part of our arrangements with Iraq."

Australian F/A-18 Super Hornets began missions over Iraq in early October, but arrangements to allow the special forces into the country took longer to complete.

Asked about the situation on the ground in Iraq, Bishop said on ABC radio on Monday that the Iraqi government was "confident of holding Baghdad" but the situation remained tense.

"Indeed this morning when I was speaking with our staff at the embassy we heard a bomb go off in Baghdad," she said.

"Overnight there have been further bomb attacks and a number of people killed here in Baghdad so the situation is exceedingly dangerous and that's why we urge Australians not to travel to Iraq, and if they are here to leave unless they have arrangements in place with their employers."

"It is a dangerous place here in Baghdad and of course in the other areas of Iraq we are seeing the activities of ISIL: the executions, the mass killings. They are a murderous and brutal organization that must be stopped, and that's why the Australian government along with many other governments around the world have been prepared to provide support to the Iraqi government so that it can protect all of its citizens from this brutal organization."

Islamic State militants currently control large parts of both Iraq and Syria, although U.S. air strikes in the past week appear to have slowed their advance in areas surrounding the key Syrian border town of Kobane.

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