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Are Australia's actions in Iraq boosting revenge terrorism?

By Peter Coates - posted Friday, 19 September 2014


The Abbott Government's contention that Australia's return to Iraq will not increase the terrorism risk at home is dangerously contrived. The risk from Australia's return to Iraq can be termed revenge terrorism. A country's response to that increased risk may include the installation of a higher terrorism alert. The Abbott Government obviously does not wish to admit that Australia's involvement in Iraq puts Australia at greater risk.

But mission creep towards "boots on the ground" is increasing the risk to Australia. Abbott will likely deny "boots on the ground" is occurring but as our SAS troops will be in the Iraqi war zone carrying guns (be they Steyrs or pistols) it means our troops are engaged in military operations in Iraq. Advising the Iraqi Army and Kurdish forces is one function while calling in Australian Super Hornet airstrikes is likely. General Dempsey, the American equivalent of our Chief of the Defence Force, has just left the way open for American boots on the ground in Iraq. It is a given that Australia, due to alliance loyalty, will adhere to American military approaches - just as Australia earlier did in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now that Australia is again involved in a counter-terrorism war in Iraq indicators of revenge terrorism include: ASIO's own formal published assessments; the assessment of the head of the Australian Federal Police when Australia was last involved in Iraq; and evidence intercepted in the counter-terrorist Operation Pendennis in Sydney and Melbourne.

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ASIOs Formal Published Assessments

As Kellie Tranter indicated in an excellent recent article on OLO the Abbott Government's public denial that Australia's participation Iraq will increase the risk of terrorism in Australia is unconvincing. ASIO's most formal public advice that such a link exists should be acknowledged. Page 2 of the ASIO Report to Parliament 2012-2013 (PDF file 2.84Mb) assesses"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."

This assessment was even more definitely put when Australia was last in Iraq where our provision of two Hercules transports (like now) was again a preliminary to "boots". Page 17 of ASIO's Report to Parliament 2004-2005:makes the assessment "Most extremists are influenced by foreign events - some in Australia view the Coalition action in Iraq as an attack on all Muslims."

This long standing ASIO advice of a linkage may be inconvenient for Australia's leaders because it clearly states that our actions overseas can boost risks at home and dangerously alienate some groups.

Then Head of the Australian Federal Police's Assessment

One of Australia's most influential Australian Federal Police Commissioners, Mick Keelty, also delivered advice on revenge terrorism that Tony Abbott's mentor, John Howard, found inconvenient. On March 11, 2004 Islamic terrorists set off bombs in Madrid which killed 191 people and wounded 1,800. The bombings were generally considered revenge for Spain's participation in the US Coalition of the Willing in Iraq. In 2004 several days after the Madrid bombings Mick Keelty made the observation that Australia might be at greater risk of terrorism due to Australia's own role in Iraq. Keelty's comments created a political storm. Like today with Abbott it is not what Prime Minister Howard wanted to hear. It was not a conclusion that the Australian public could be permitted to draw.

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Keelty was quickly forced to recant. Nevertheless Keelty's view on revenge terrorism was supported by the recently retired peak counter-terrorism advisers of the US (White House) in 2004 and of Britain (MI5) in 2010.

Operation Pendennis

An official report on Operation Pendennis indicates that in November 2005-March 2006 thirteen men were arrested and charged in Melbourne and Sydney with terrorism offences. Significantly it is stated "One of the objectives discussed [in intercepts] by the members of the organisation was to engage in an act of terrorism in Australia, in an effort to influence the Australian government to withdraw its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan."

With Australia ramping up its involvement in Iraq: what ASIO has assessed in the recent past; what the then head of the AFP said; and, what those found guilty of terrorism said - should be debated rather than denied. Why is the Abbott Government denying that its new policies in Iraq are boosting the risk of revenge terrorism at home? Why is Abbott also denying the increasing signs of the term "boots on the ground"?

In the end do we seriously think that after a decade of the US fighting then advising and arming the failed Iraqi Army our participation in Iraq will make a difference?

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About the Author

Peter Coates has been writing articles on military, security and international relations issues since 2006. In 2014 he completed a Masterís Degree in International Relations, with a high distinction average. His website is Submarine Matters.

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