Question: Minister, thank you very much. My first question is about the Australian Special Forces. What can you tell us about the current status of their deployment and exactly what they will be doing in Iraq?
Minister Bishop: I have been in Baghdad for the past two days to meet with the senior leadership of the Iraqi Government including the President and the Speaker, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, and I have finalised agreement for a legal framework to enable our special forces to be deployed here to advise and assist the Iraqi Government in building up the capacity of the security forces.
Question: How far away are we from the actual signing of a legal framework?
Minister Bishop: We have reached agreement for a legal framework and now it will be a matter for our military to determine when our special forces will be deployed. So it will be an operational matter from now on.
Question: Coalition airstrikes have done some damage; many ISIL targets have been destroyed over the last couple of months. There's also a sense that it hasn't really been a game changer. What do you think is needed for the Government forces to actually take the initiative again and probably turn the tide on ISIL? And how far do you think we are from that, Ma'am?
Minister Bishop: There is an international coalition of nations to provide support to the Iraqi Government, to advise and assist the Iraqi security forces, to disrupt and destroy Da’esh. What we have seen so far have been airstrikes that have been targeted to infrastructure, resources and personnel of Da’esh or ISIL, and I believe that they have been successful. The airstrikes will continue because it disrupts the activities of ISIL forming as a military group. But there will also need to be action taken by Iraqi Security Forces. That's why we are offering our support to advise and assist with training of the Iraqi security forces so that the Iraqi Government can take back territory and protect all of the people of Iraq.
Question: Minister, the security portfolios of the Government has now been filled. How concerned are you that the Ministry in charge of the Interior is being run by a militia organisation has been accused of abuses, torture, summary executions and a variety of other abuses?
Minister Bishop: I am pleased to see that the cabinet has been established. I understand that this is the first time since 2010 that there has been a full cabinet, including a Minister for Defence, a Minister of the Interior and Minister of Finance and the like. So that gives an indication that the Government will be stable and hopefully govern for all Iraqis – and I did stress that in my meetings with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister that we expect this to be an inclusive Government that protects the rights of all citizens of Iraq.
In the relation to the specific security arrangements, that is a matter for the Iraqi Government. What we can do is provide professional, advice and assistance to train the Iraqi security forces to ensure that they are able to disrupt and degrade the activities of ISIL and to protect citizens who are being terrified by this murderous organisation and its brutal attitude, particularly the killing and execution of innocent civilians. So we urge the Iraqi Government to take the advice and seek the assistance of the international coalition so that it can destroy ISIL and its ideology. We see it not only as a threat to Iraq but also to the region and it is a global threat.
Question: Thank you, one more question. A number of minority groups in Iraq have over the last couple of months have supported the idea of an autonomous, a semi-autonomous region, a safe-haven in which they could be protected by international forces. Is that something you have heard during your stay here and would you support it?
Minister Bishop: I have met with representatives of a number of the minority and religious groups of Iraq and this has given me an opportunity to hear first-hand of the challenges that they face and their current plight. There is a great need for humanitarian assistance and the Australian Government has joined with other nations around the world to provide humanitarian assistance. But we believe that what is needed is a coordinated effort to disrupt and destroy ISIL because that is a threat to the people of Iraq and the region more generally and, as I said, it is a global threat. So my focus is very much on ensuring that we can disrupt the activities of a terrorist organisation that is currently attracting citizens from around the world to come here to join in the conflict. So my focus and the focus of the Australian Government is to meet this threat and to assist the Iraqi Government to ensure it does not spread further; assisting the Iraqi Government to take back its territory from Da’esh and protecting the Iraqi people.
Question: Do you have an updated figure on the number of people whom are fighting over here with ISIL?
Minister Bishop: We believe that overall there are about 160 Australians who are in one way or another are supporting Da’esh, either through fighting here in Iraq or Syria or supporting and promoting terrorism back in Australia.
Journalist: Thank you
Minister Bishop: Thank you
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