With possibly more than 2000 Australians living in Iraq, the federal government is again appealing for people to leave the strife-torn nation while they still can.
The government has begun withdrawing its embassy staff from Baghdad, warning Australians it can’t help them evacuate because the security situation across northern Iraq is too perilous.
Islamist militants have seized large parts of the country from Iraqi authorities in a lightning campaign that’s stunned the West and sent thousands of civilians fleeing for safety.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has earned a global reputation for brutality, boasting online of massacring 1700 Iraqi soldiers and policeman who surrendered to the militants.
The government is playing down the prospect of sending Australian troops back to Iraq, but isn’t mincing its words when it comes to the regional threat posed by the radical jihadist group.
“Should the control of this group be consolidated, we are faced with the situation of a terrorist state,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament on Monday.
“As things stand it is a humanitarian disaster for the people of those sections of Iraq which have now fallen under the control of this group.”
The government says it’s hard to gauge exactly how many Australians are in Iraq, but Defence Minister David Johnston estimates there could be more than 2000 doing contract work in sectors like oil and gas.
The Baghdad embassy remains open with a skeleton staff but the government warns there’s little they can do for those trying to evacuate.
There’s hope a counter offensive by Iraqi soldiers will turn the tide against the militants advancing towards the capital, and return some territory to the beleaguered government.
The Australian Greens want any decision to send troops back to Iraq run by parliament, but Senator Johnston said the prime minister had “ruled that out”.
“We need to be vigilant and be able to assist in whatever way we can without putting boots on the ground,” he told Sky News.