January 16, 2016 / 10:12 PM / 2 years ago

Australia PM tells Europe to step up fight against Islamic State during Iraq visit

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called on European countries to “step up” efforts to defeat Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria during a surprise visit to Iraq on Saturday.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull delivers a speech at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, in Tokyo, Japan, December 18, 2015. REUTERS/Atsushi Tomura/Pool

Turnbull, who met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi on the brief trip, also flagged possible further Australian contributions in future but stressed that the military commitment would not last forever.

Australia, a staunch ally of the United States in its battle against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has been one of the largest contributors to the U.S.-led bombing campaign against the group.

But despite a request from Washington for more assistance, Defence Minister Marise Payne said last week that there were no plans to increase Australia’s commitment except maybe for additional humanitarian aid.

“We’re encouraging other countries, particularly other European countries, NATO countries, to step up and make a greater contribution, too,” Turnbull told Australian soldiers at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, in comments released by his office on Sunday.

“What further commitments we were to make would depend on the circumstances, but we do not intend to be in Iraq forever.”

Australia in late 2014 committed Super Hornet fighter jets as well as support aircraft and a 600-strong group of air force personnel and special forces soldiers to the force battling Islamic State in Iraq. It expanded that mission into Syria last year.

The United States requested greater military commitment against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq in the wake of the November attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

Turnbull, who received a ceremonial welcome in Baghdad, said that ultimately it would be the Iraqi army that would defeat Islamic State.

The militant group still holds the country’s second-largest city, Mosul, but recently suffered a key defeat at the hands of the Iraqi army in Ramadi, west of the capital.

“The most important boots on the ground are Iraqi boots,” Turnbull said. “On the ground, they have to win back their own country. They have to reach the political settlement and reconciliation with their own people.”

Reporting by Jane Wardell; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn

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