Australia

Australia PM Tony Abbott in surprise Iraq visit

A handout picture released by Iraq"s Prime Minister"s office shows Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (R) and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott meeting in Baghdad on January 4, 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Tony Abbott met his Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abadi, as well as Australian troops

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has reaffirmed Australia's commitment to the military campaign against Islamic State (IS) during a surprise visit to Iraq on Monday.

He met his Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad as part of his first visit to the country.

Australia is part of a US-led coalition targeting IS in the country.

IS controls a broad swathe of territory, spanning a borderless stretch of Syria and Iraq.

Australia has deployed around 200 special forces advisers and aircraft including six F/A 18 Super Hornets, along with support personnel.

"We are determined to deepen our cooperation with the government and the people of Iraq in the weeks and months to come, not because we are a country which goes forward, seeking foreign fights, but because where our vital national interests are threatened, where universal values are at stake, Australia should be a strong partner," Mr Abbott said at a press conference on Sunday.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Australia has contributed six war planes and hundreds of military personnel to the anti-IS effort

"It's a struggle not just for the people of Iraq, and not just for the people of this region, but for the whole world - because the Daesh death cult, the ISIL death cult, has declared war against the world," he said, using alternative names for IS.

IS militants overran large areas in Iraq following a lighting advance in June last year that lead to international military action.

Mr Abbott also addressed Australian Defense Force (ADF) personnel at a lunch and announced a A$5m ($4m, £2.6m) increase in humanitarian aid to Iraq.

This brings Australia's humanitarian assistance to Iraq to A$22m since June last year, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Mr Abbott also said a planned trip to Iraq in the lead up to Christmas was cancelled after a gunman took hostages in Sydney café resulting in two deaths.


What is Islamic State (IS)?

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Media captionIn 60 seconds: What does Islamic State want?
  • Formed out of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2013, IS first captured Raqqa in eastern Syria
  • It captured parts of Iraq in June, including Mosul, and declared a "caliphate" in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq
  • Pursuing an extreme form of Sunni Islam, IS has persecuted non-Muslims such as Yazidis and Christians, as well as Shia Muslims, whom it regards as heretics
  • Known for its brutal tactics, including beheadings of soldiers, Western journalists and aid workers
  • The CIA says the group could have as many as 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria

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