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Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Page: 6367


Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (15:27): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Employment (Senator Abetz) to a question without notice asked by Senator Milne today relating to Australia’s involvement in Iraq.

The Greens want to see—as do all people—an end to the atrocities being carried out in Iraq and Syria. We want to see an end to the killings, beheadings and torture that is going on. We want to support an inclusive government in Iraq, which is the only hope of actually securing a long-term peace for the people there and a sustainable life for them.

The question then is: is the current engagement of the Abbott government, in helping to move arms into Northern Iraq, the best way of securing that outcome? Is it in the national interest for Australia to be involved in that military activity, and will that military activity actually help to secure a unified Iraq? We have a situation where the current government, led by Prime Minister al-Maliki, has not been inclusive. In fact, his government has secured the spoils of victory for the Shias, which has led to a hardening of tension with the Sunnis. It is not surprising, therefore, that you see the Sunnis going to the Islamic State—or at least not fighting, as the Islamic State comes through Sunni dominated areas of Iraq.

The Prime Minister has said that you cannot stand by and watch these atrocities, that you have to move in. But standing by and watching atrocities is what we have been doing. From 2005 to 2007, while Iraq teetered on the brink of sectarian civil war, Shia militias ran death squads that targeted the Sunnis. They were accused of ethnic cleansing, driving members of the rival sect out of entire suburbs of Baghdad and other cities. At exactly the same time, the Sunnis who formed the backbone of the insurgency blew up Shia shrines and carried out a campaign of violence against Shiites. Those are the tensions in Iraq.

The question I asked today went specifically to that point. I asked: given that the government of al-Maliki is fighting alongside Shia militias who have been accused of all these crimes, are we not in the position of providing armaments to Shia militias who, if we get an inclusive government in Iraq, will then turn those weapons against that inclusive government for daring to include the Sunnis? That is why you have to think this through. If you want an inclusive government, are you making things worse? Are you hardening the resolve of the Islamic State and the Sunnis against an inclusive government? If young jihadists around the world see a western alliance going into Iraq, is it going to encourage them to come and join the fight, making the situation even worse?

It is for these reasons that the Greens have said, firstly, that we have to look at diplomatic solutions and tell the new Iraqi government about to take office that they must be inclusive. Secondly, the Greens have said that it is extremely important that the Turkish border is closed. As an expert has said, if it is closed, it will cut three things—funding, an entrance for the foreign fighters and links to Europe, links they are trying to open. If their plans to open links to Europe through Turkey are destroyed, they could perhaps try to open another gate to Lebanon. But the point is that we need to be talking to Turkey about closing the borders and we need to be talking to the new Iraqi government about making sure it is inclusive. We need to be taking these actions.

How is arming one side of a conflict in an area where there has been sectarian violence going on for hundreds of years going to lead to peace? What is going on in Iraq has been described by al-Maliki as 'the second Karbala'—a battle fought in 680 AD. That shows just how many centuries this fighting has been going on for and how deep the sectarian violence and hatred is. We are not going to get to long-term peace in Iraq if we do not think this through. We need to pursue the opportunity of a new, inclusive government in Iraq and to recognise that atrocities have been committed by both sides—the Shias and the Sunnis.

Question agreed to.