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So, did we just go to war?

global war on terrorism
Displaced Iraqis, who have fled the offensive led by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, on Saturday at a camp for displaced people (Photo: MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty Images)

By GRACE JENNINGS-EDQUIST

Update 3/10/14:

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has confirmed Australia will join air strikes in Iraq, in an attempt to “disrupt and degrade ISIL”.

Federal Cabinet have today authorised this deployment of Australian forces into Iraq, in order to assist Iraqi forces.

“We are joining combat operations as part of an Austalian-led coalition in support of the Iraqi government. We have no intention of doing anything else but there is useful work that we can and must do… it is very much in Australia’s interest,” the Prime Minister said in a press conference this afternoon.

“I have to warn the Australian people that this deployment may be quite lengthy. It is a dangerous mission,” the PM added. “We will be there for as long as is necessary, but no longer than we need to be.”

The government plans to commit up to eight Australian F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft to participate in the airstrikes.

Previously, Mamamia wrote:

You might have heard that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced Australia will send special forces and combat aircraft to the Middle East to help the fight in Iraq.

What you might be wondering, though is what this actually means: Just how big is this conflict? And what’s going to happen next?
We spoke to an expert to dig up answers to your burning questions — and it’ll only take a few minutes to get your head around this pressing political issue.

1. Wait, what just happened?

The Abbott government has agreed to a request from the US to provide support to the fight against the Islamic State, or the IS (formerly known as ISIS.)

Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Mr Abbott announced at a press conference in Darwin on Sunday that 600 personnel — including 200 from the army and the elite Special Air Services, and 400 air-related personnel — will be deployed to the Middle East within days, along with a number of Royal Australian Air Force combat aircraft.

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While the personnel and aircraft aren’t actually in Iraq yet, they’re being sent to a military base in the United Arab Emirates in preparation for military action in Iraq.

2. Are we going into Syria?

While the IS is rampaging through both Iraq and Syria, Mr Abbott said Australia’s not intending to operate in Syria at this stage.

He said the legalities were very different in the two countries; while the elected Iraqi government has invited in the multinational force, Syria has a government Australia did not recognise. Obama has, however, flagged strikes on IS targets in Syria, and it’s conceivable that Australia may eventually follow suit.

3. Does all this mean we’re going to war?

global war on terrorism
A Yezedi woman and her baby in northern Iraq. (Photo: Amnesty International.)

Mr Abbott yesterday said the deployment, which has Labor support, did not mean Australia was at war — and Attorney General George Brandis confirmed that to Sky News, insisting: “It’s a humanitarian mission with military elements”.

But the Greens expressed concern the operation signalled war, with the party’s leader, Christine Milne, saying: “Make no mistake. Today, Tony Abbott has committed Australia to blindly following the United States into another war in Iraq”.

“This is an open-ended mission, there is no timeframe for how long troops would be there or even a notion of what success would look like,” she said.

Writing in The GuardianGiles Fraser went so far as to describe the conflict as “the third world war”.

“One word was conspicuously absent from Barack Obama’s big speech re-declaring war on Islamic terrorists: the word war itself,” he wrote. “Of course, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. And no forest of technical-sounding euphemisms should divert us from this reality.”

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4. Should Australian troops join the fight on the ground?

US President Barack Obama.

University of Melbourne international development expert Dr Denis Dragovic told Mamamia it could be “problematic and even counter-productive” if Australia ultimately deployed combat troops to fight on the ground.

“Islamic State is looking for an opportunity to engage and confront the West. For them (if the West sent ground troops) it would be a boon to their recruitment, it would empower them… we’d be presenting them an opportunity,” he said.

He said going in with combat troops would present the IS with more opportunities to capture and kill Westerners — which could prompt the US-led coalition to withdraw, exacerbating the situation.

“The worst case is that an American soldier is captured; that would just play into their hands,” he explained. “In 2004 four American troops were captured in Fallujah in Iraq. They were burned, strung from bridges, dragged through the streets — and this created a lot of angst in American circles.”

If we sent ground troops back into Iraq, he argued, “we’d face the same risk again: The West gets involved, something happens that puts off the community and there’s withdrawal, and that can be even more counterproductive.”

Dr Dragovic emphasised that any intervention in Iraq “requires long-term commitment to the region”, or else local groups would be left vulnerable and the “overall objective” of fighting the IS would be undermined.

“There are a lot of local groups in the Middle East ready to support efforts against the Islamic State,” he told Mamamia. “The problem is, if they put their hand up and the West says ‘we’re right here behind you’ and then they withdraw, these people are left standing.”

global war on terrorism
A displaced Iraqi woman at a camp for internally displaced persons. PHOTO/ALI AL-SAADI (Photo: ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images)
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“So this is what my concern is, we’re committing to something that we may not necessary have to see through,” he said.

5. How will this affect everyday Australians?

Dr Dragovic said that in the near-term, our involvement in Iraq and the fighting there represents “very little” risk, other the ongoing risk of a terrorist attack; The Federal government raised the terrorism alert level from medium to high last week, meaning an attack is now “likely”.

But Dr Dragovic said there could “absolutely” be potential, serious repercussions on Australia in the long-term.

“Because the Middle East is pivotal to our economies, it could effect us very much,” he said.

“If you have a Middle East that collapses into conflict, that will affect everything from oil prices to the cost of air flights over the Middle East to the value of the Australian dollar, to Australians being sent overseas as peacekeepers.”

6. What’s going to happen next?

The Australian government has refused to offer a time frame for how Australia will fight against IS forces — but Mr Abbott warned the operation could be highly hazardous and could go on for a while.

“(T)his could go on for quite some time — months rather than weeks, perhaps many, many months indeed,’” Mr Abbott said on Sunday.

Dr Dragovic said the Islamic State may continue to spread for years.

Iraq.

The Islamic state is now entrenched in Syria and Iraq. It has had some fighting in Lebanon, and there is some talk that it ‘s involved in Iran, he said. “If this expands much further then the potential ramifications are huge.”

The good news? Dr Dragovic hazards a guess that within the next three to five years, the IS will “implode”.

“What will most likely happen is there will be an effort to isolate it, it will remain there for a number of years to come, and slowly it will wither from within,” he said.

“It will implode.”

Dr Dragovic is an Adjunct Lecturer in International Development at University of Melbourne and the author of ‘Religion and Post-Conflict Statebuilding: Roman Catholic and Sunni Islamic Perspectives’ (Palgrave, 2015) as well as numerous literary and policy articles.

For an explainer on what’s happening in Iraq, see Mamamia’s previous explainer here.

Dr Dragovic explains Barack Obama’s speech on the United States’ plan to defeat the IS – in this explainer here.

What do you think about Australia joining the fight in Iraq?

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