ABC Radio National, Iraq - Interview with Alison Carabine

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP I have been in Baghdad for two days and during this time I have met with President Masum, the Speaker al-Jabouri, Prime Minister al-Abadi and Foreign Minister Ja'afari and as a result of those meetings and my discussions I have reached an agreement on a legal framework to enable our Special Forces to be deployed to Iraq to assist and advise the Iraqi Security Forces.

I expect the deployment will now take place but the details of course are operational and are a matter for our Defence Forces.

ALISON CARABINE And so when might we see those 200 Special Forces finally deployed to Iraq? Can you give us a timeframe?

JULIE BISHOP Well there is still work for our officials to undertake on administrative and logistic matters but the way is now clear for our Special Forces to be deployed to Iraq for the purposes of training, advising and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces.

ALISON CARABINE While you have been in Baghdad the Iraqi Parliament finally approved new Ministers for Interior and Defence, was that the last major hurdle that needed to be cleared before the Status of Forces Agreement could be signed and delivered?

JULIE BISHOP We were pleased to receive the news, on my arrival on Saturday, that the Parliament has finally agreed the appointment of the Cabinet. It's the first time since 2010 the Iraqi Government has a full Cabinet, including a Minister for Defence, a Minister for the Interiors and a Minister for Finance amongst others. So that was an important part of the finalisation of arrangements with the Iraqi Government. So we're pleased that the Cabinet is now in place and that we have reached agreement on the legal framework for our Special Forces to be deployed.

ALISON CARABINE Now, the situation in Iraq does appear to be deteriorating. Once our forces are sent in could it possibly be too late for them to have much of an impact training up Iraqi Forces, especially in places such as Anbar Province where ISIS appears to be quite well entrenched?

JULIE BISHOP Clearly the situation is tense in Baghdad and the situation beyond Baghdad is critical. I have had briefings from the US Commanders here, also other security briefings on the current situation and it's quite evident that the air strikes are having an impact but they have targeted the terrorist organisations' infrastructure, resources, equipment and personnel but it's also necessary for the Iraqi Security Forces to have the capability to protect the civilians across Iraq.

ALISON CARABINE Late last week your Department was advising Australians in Iraq to leave immediately while the airport was still open. Now, considering those briefings that you have received in Baghdad, what is the advice that you have been given on the ground in Iraq about the ISIS advance towards Baghdad?

JULIE BISHOP The Government is confident of holding Baghdad but the situation is tense. Indeed this morning when I was speaking with our staff at the embassy we heard a bomb go off in Baghdad. Overnight there have been further bomb attacks and a number of people killed here in Baghdad. So the situation is exceedingly dangerous and that's why we urge Australians not to travel to Iraq, and if they are here to leave, unless they have arrangements in place with their employers.

But it is a dangerous place here in Baghdad and of course in the other areas of Iraq we are seeing the activities of ISIL, the executions, the mass killings. They are a murderous and brutal organisation that must be stopped and that's why the Australian Government, along with many other governments around the world, has been prepared to provide support to the Iraqi Government so that it can protect all of its citizens from this brutal organisation.

ALISON CARABINE Now you have met the Iraqi Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, both of whom are Shia, the President who is a Kurd, and the Speaker who is Sunni, the new Defence Minister is also a Sunni. From your talks are you satisfied that the new Iraqi Government is a genuine unity government which is reaching out to groups, especially Sunnis, who have felt marginalised by the former Prime Minister al-Maliki?

JULIE BISHOP I think it is a positive sign that a number of the key appointments have been to Sunni representatives, as well as Kurdish representatives. I urged the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to be an inclusive government, to take account of the interests of all of the communities across Iraq, indeed the international coalition has made it clear that our expectation is this government will be inclusive, will protect the rights of all the Iraqi citizens, as well as taking up the fight against ISIL, which of course is designed to protect civilians across Iraq.

ALISON CARABINE And Shiite militia are taking up that fight against ISIS or ISIL. There was a report from Amnesty last week which accused the government in Baghdad of supporting and arming these Shiite militia which are carrying out, according to Amnesty, kidnappings and killings of Sunni civilians. Amnesty says it has evidence of deliberate execution-style killings. Will Australian forces have any role training these Shiite militia groups?

JULIE BISHOP The Australian Government has offered to advise and assist the Iraqi Security Forces, and only the Iraqi Security Forces. We urge the government to focus on the common enemy, which is ISIL, and to ensure that Sunnis and Shias and all representatives are working in the interest of Iraq generally. The sectarian violence must stop, they must focus on degrading, destroying, disrupting ISIL and its activities before it spreads beyond the region.

ALISON CARABINE Julie Bishop finally if I could ask you about MH17 and Vladimir Putin – you spoke with the President in Milan. How strong is this assurance he's given you that the investigation teams could return to the Ukraine crash site before winter sets in?

JULIE BISHOP I raised with him directly our concerns regarding access to the crash site. He responded constructively to my request that Russia use its influence over the separatists to enable the Dutch, Malaysian and Australian officials to return to the crash site. I also urged him to ensure that Russia fully cooperated with the independent investigation into the cause of the crash and to provide any evidence that Russia was holding. Again he agreed to provide whatever support he could and to cooperate fully with the investigation.

ALISON CARABINE Do you trust him?

JULIE BISHOP Well, it's a question of what happens on the ground. We hope to get access to the crash site before the winter sets in. I did speak to him about the urgency of returning to the crash site to ensure that all remains had been collected, and all personal belongings had been retrieved. I also spoke to him of the urgency surrounding the independent investigation before any evidence was further degraded and he did respond constructively, he engaged with me, we spoke for almost half an hour about MH17, as well as other issues. But he did listen to my concerns and he did respond in a positive manner.

ALISON CARABINE Julie Bishop, thank you very much for joining breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP It's been my pleasure. Thank you.

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