Abbott leaves door open on Iraq mission

Tony Abbott has left the door open to using the Australian military in a future "humanitarian mission" in Iraq, even as Washington played down the need for a mass evacuation of refugees fleeing Islamic radicals.

_The Weekend West _understands the Defence Department had been considering sending Australian special forces to take part in a possible coalition operation to create a humanitarian corridor to allow Yazidis, an ethnic religious minority, to escape.

But the plan was put on ice after the US military landed on the mountain where thousands of Yazidis were taking refuge and assessed no mass evacuation was necessary.

As many as 30,000 Yazidis were thought trapped on Mt Sinjar near the Syrian border in northern Iraq. The refugees had been fleeing brutal fighters from the Islamic State, who were calling on the Yazidis to convert to their hard-line brand of Islam or face execution.

A small party of US Marines and aid workers that landed on Mt Sinjar on Thursday reported that there were far fewer refugees trapped on the mountain that had been thought, and that those they found were in relatively good condition.

The Pentagon said airstrikes on IS positions at the base of Mt Sinjar had given the Yazidis time to get to the relative safety of territory held by Kurdish forces.

The Defence Department is also thought to have looked at plans to fly out Yazidis from Kurdish territory to Australia as part of an emergency refugee program.

The Federal Government is considering offering refuge to as many as 4000 Iraqis and Syrians displaced by recent fighting.

The Prime Minister said the situation on Mt Sinjar had "somewhat eased" but the overall security situation in Iraq remained perilous.

Asked if Australian troops could take part in a limited "humanitarian mission" in Iraq, Mr Abbott said:

"We will act as a good partner and ally in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world."

Mr Abbott said he did not envisage Australian combat troops going to Iraq, but Australia was consulting with its allies as to what it could contribute to future operations.

The West Australian

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