As the RAAF prepares for its mission orders into Iraq, the Prime Minister and Muslim community are appealing for unity.
Australia’s military forces are “ready to go” into action in Iraq against Islamic State militants, as community leaders call for cool heads amid rising anti-Muslim tension.
RAAF Super Hornet jets are on standby in the United Arab Emirates pending a cabinet decision within days on targeted strikes in Iraq’s north where IS, or ISIL, has have carved out territory in a bloody campaign of terror against local populations.
The targets will be based on advice from the US-led coalition and the Iraqi government.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who will return to Australia this weekend after security talks at the United Nations, said the jets were not in the UAE “for merely an exercise”.
“We sent them there in readiness to deploy them, but obviously it’s important to do so as part of a coalition,” he said.
“That coalition clearly is assembling and the government will be making further decisions in coming days.”
Asked about defence force preparations, Defence head Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin told reporters: “We are ready to go.”
About 600 Australian military personnel including special forces members are assembled at Camp Baird in the UAE.
Mr Abbott, in his first speech to the UN General Assembly, said that Australia could not single-handedly save the world.
“But nor have we shrunk from shouldering our responsibilities.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop plans to visit Baghdad soon, following up on a meeting between Mr Abbott and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
“I think before Australia commits to operations in Iraq we should have a very good idea of what’s happening on the ground,” she said.
The minister said Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, some of whom were Australian citizens or were supported by Australians, posed an “increasing threat” to the homeland.
Ms Bishop has used her national security powers to cancel 47 passports – including seven in September – and seized foreign passports of about six people with dual citizenship.
However, the focus on the Islamic community is having repercussions across the country following the September 18 Australian Federal Police-led counter-terrorism raids amid concerns about an alleged IS-driven plot to abduct and behead a member of the public.
Mosques in Brisbane and the north Queensland town of Mareeba have been vandalised and some Muslims have been abused in public.
But a navy officer who claimed to have been assaulted by two “Middle Eastern” men in Sydney’s west withdrew his claim with police.
Air Chief Marshal Binskin apologised for the incident.
“On behalf of the Australian Defence Force I would like to apologise to the Australian community and in particular the Middle Eastern community for any angst this has caused,” he said.
NSW police are still investigating the incident.
Sheikh Abdul Azim, president of the Australian National Imams Council, said there had been a rise in anti-Muslim abuse over the past week.
“At the end of the day, we’re all Australians. We have to look after each other,” he said.
Mr Abbott said he would do all he could to promote national unity.
“People should go about their normal lives because that’s what terrorists are trying to do is scare us out of being ourselves,” he said in New York.