Abbott's Iraq adventure: Spinning Australians into harm's way

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(Image via @sacarlin48)

Despite what Tony Abbott might suggest, we can’t just bomb people, supply munitions to strangers or take sides in wars without inviting serious consequences, writes Kellie Tranter.

WHILE THE AUSTRALIAN POPULATION understands the importance of our Government providing humanitarian assistance to those in harm’s way overseas, they are less likely to support foreign policy actions that may jeopardise their own personal safety and that of their families and friends.

A confusing narrative has developed about whether or not Australia’s actions in Iraq – and potentially Syria – would increase the risk of an attack in Australia. It’s an important question that needs to be answered.

On 31 August 2014, when asked if our actions increase the terrorist threat inside Australia, the Prime Minister responded:

"... this matter was dealt with by David Irvine at the National Press Club during the week and he said there was, in his professional judgement, no specific correlation between what the Australian Government might do in the Middle East and domestic terrorist threats...”

In response to a similar question put to the Director-General of Security (ASIO) David Irvine at the National Press Club, he said:

“I don’t see any immediate correlation between that and the threat levels. Although you can expect that that’s something we’d be looking at.”

Yet ASIO’s Report to Parliament 2012-2013 suggests otherwise, specifically stating:

'In Australia, there are individuals and small groups who believe an attack here is justified. Issues such as Australia’s military deployments over the last decade, the Syrian conflict, or a belief that the ideals of Australia are in direct conflict with their extreme interpretation of Islam, fuel the radical views of this cohort...'

Similarly, ASIO’s Report to Parliament 2004-2005 – a year after Australia’s participation in the invasion of Iraq – noted that

'A lot of extremists are influenced by foreign events — some in Australia view the Coalition action in Iraq as an attack on all Muslims.'

The Abbott and Irvine detensifiers “no specific correlation” and “no immediate correlation” are important “spin”.

The comments in the ASIO reports make sense. 

Agreeing to airlift arms to Kurdish fighters, and even more so, any decision to deploy RAAF Super Hornets in military airstrikes in Iraq or Syria, makes the official assurances that our actions in the Middle East will not increase the domestic terror threats optimistic at best.

Last month, ISIS threatened to attack U.S. targets "in any place" in revenge for American air strikes against them in Iraq. Is it likely that ISIS, its allies, or its ‘lone wolf’ sympathisers will make a particular exception for Australian airstrikes? Last night, another chilling and morally repugnant ISIS video has emerged warning other nations who've joined the United States action to back off.

Recently the UK Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre raised the country's terror threat level from substantial to severe and Germany's Hans-Georg Maaßen, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has now stated that there was an 'increased abstract threat' of attacks in Germany. Both countries are involved in the multinational efforts in Iraq.

In a joint bulletin, reportedly issued by the Department of Homeland Security and FBI in August 2014 to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, they urged law enforcement to be alert for possible attacks inside the United States in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against ISIS.

Importantly, the bulletin allegedly states that

'... civilian deaths reportedly associated with these U.S. military air strikes will almost certainly be used as further examples of a perceived Western war against Islam in English-language violent extremist messaging that could contribute to [homegrown] radicalisation to violence.'

Now it is being reported that

Australia will consider upgrading the country's terror alertness level after the UK has announced it has increased the risk to "severe" after one day.

In his media release of 30 August 2014 Attorney-General Senator George Brandis does confirm that

‘Australia's National Terrorism Public Alert System level remains at 'Medium', which indicates that a terrorist attack could occur.’

The Prime Minister may be correct to say that

“... there is a certain type of terrorist organisation which hates us, not because of what we do but because of who we are and how we live and who we are and how we live I hope will never change. We are a free, democratic and pluralist society.”

However, it is also equally true that we can’t just bomb people, supply munitions to strangers or take sides in wars without inviting serious domestic and international consequences in all its forms.

We need an honest answer to the question whether or not Australia’s actions in Iraq and, potentially, Syria are likely to increase the risk of an attack in Australia, because the people most likely to be affected by it are Australian citizens.

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist.  You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter.

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