Labor is holding back bipartisan support for an increased Australian role in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq until it receives a more detailed briefing of high-level talks in Baghdad.
The opposition also warned that excluding the media from Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s unannounced diplomatic mission to the Iraqi capital on Sunday was not in the national interest.
Mr Abbott, in talks with Iraqi leader Haider Al-Abadi, pledged Australia would do ‘everything we reasonably can’ to help Baghdad restore control over its country and citizens.
Mr Abadi told Mr Abbott he wanted Australia to increase the arming and speed-up training of Iraqi forces.
The comments of both leaders have led to speculation that Australia might be prepared to go beyond a limited commitment to what Mr Abbott described as Islamic State’s ‘war against the world’.
Australia is part of the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against ISIL in Iraq and has deployed special forces troops to assist in training the local army.
Mr Abbott, speaking alongside Mr Abadi after their talks, said Australia was determined to deepen its co-operation with Baghdad and the people of Iraq in the weeks and months to come.
The opposition is not yet prepared to provide support for any increased commitment until it gets a detailed briefing of the Baghdad talks from the government.
Asked whether Australians should be preparing themselves for a larger military engagement, acting opposition leader Tony Burke told reporters in Canberra: ‘I’m not going to be flagging something like that on the back of a report I haven’t seen verified.’
Labor, however, does support the government’s decision to provide an additional $5 million for the World Food Program in Iraq to feed about 350,000 people during the next month.
The commitment brought Australia’s total humanitarian commitment to Iraq to $22 million since mid-2014, Mr Abbott said.
The prime minister, together with Defence Minister Kevin Andrews and defence force chief Mark Binskin, joined Australian personnel for a barbecue in Baghdad.
He told them he had planned to make the visit before Christmas, but the opportunity was closed because of the fatal Martin Place siege in Sydney.
‘Everyone wants you to help the Iraqis to knock off ISIL,’ Mr Abbott said.
‘You are doing our bit for Australia, for the Middle East, and for the wider world.’
Australian media were excluded from covering Mr Abbott’s sudden visit to Baghdad, in a departure from previous practice.
The decision prompted a rebuke from the opposition.
‘It is the government’s interest, the national interest and only fair to the Australian people that there not be a culture of secrecy,’ Mr Burke said.