Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called on European countries to “step up” efforts to defeat Islamic State group militants in Iraq and Syria during a surprise visit to Iraq Saturday. Turnbull, who met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the brief trip, also flagged possible further Australian contributions in future but stressed the military commitment would not last forever.
A staunch ally of the U.S. in its battle against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, Australia has been one of the largest contributors to the American-led bombing campaign against the militant organization, aka either ISIL or ISIS. But despite a request by Washington for more assistance, Defense Minister Marise Payne said last week that there were no plans to increase Australia’s commitment, except maybe for additional humanitarian aid.
“We’re encouraging other countries, particularly other European countries, NATO countries, to step up and make a greater contribution, too,” Turnbull told Australian soldiers at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, in comments released by his office Sunday. “What further commitments we were to make would depend on the circumstances, but we do not intend to be in Iraq forever.”
Australia in late 2014 committed Super Hornet fighter jets as well as support aircraft and a 600-strong group of air force personnel and special forces soldiers to the elements battling the Islamic State group in Iraq. It expanded that mission into Syria last year.
The U.S. requested greater military commitment against Islamic State group militants in Syria and Iraq in the wake of the November attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.
Turnbull, who received a ceremonial welcome in Baghdad, said that ultimately it would be the Iraqi army that would defeat the Islamic State group.
The militant group still holds the country’s second-largest city, Mosul, but recently suffered a key defeat at the hands of the Iraqi army in Ramadi, west of the capital.
“The most important boots on the ground are Iraqi boots,” Turnbull said. “On the ground, they have to win back their own country. They have to reach the political settlement and reconciliation with their own people.”