Iraq considering Australian airstrike request

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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Iraq's ambassador to Australia on Thursday gave no timetable for when his government might decide on Australia's request to launch airstrikes against Islamic State targets.

Australia has six F/A-18F Super Hornet jet fighters waiting on standby in the United Arab Emirates for final authorization to begin combat missions with the U.S.-led coalition.

"We are seriously considering the request from Australia," Ambassador Mouayed Saleh told The Associated Press.

He said a decision could be made Thursday, the last working day before Independence Day and a weeklong holiday. But it might not be made until after the holiday, he said.

Australia's Cabinet was waiting for the Iraqi response before it can formally commit to a combat role.

The Australian government can commit troops without asking Parliament, which sits for the last day on Thursday before a two-week break.

Two unarmed Australian air force planes — an E-7A Wedgetail surveillance and communications jet and a KC-30A refueling plane — joined operations over Iraq from the al-Minhad Air Base outside Dubai for the first time on Wednesday in support roles, the air force said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Thursday that these support missions would continue.

"We, at this stage, are not flying strike missions, but in coming days the government will be making further decisions," Abbott told reporters.

Australia's intention is to work with allies to disrupt and degrade "the ISIL death cult because this hasn't just declared war on the people of Iraq, it's effectively declared war on the world, including Australia," he added.

The government says the number of Super Hornets, which were deployed two weeks ago at the request from Washington, could soon be increased to eight.

The Australian deployment also includes a 200-strong ground force, including special forces, to advise security forces inside Iraq, plus 400 air force personnel.

Abbott has restricted combat operations to Iraq and has ruled out Australian troops fighting on the ground. Saleh said that foreign ground troops were not wanted.

Australia is among dozens of countries from Europe, Middle East and including Canada that have signed up to the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Contributions vary and include military assistance and humanitarian aid as well as carrying out airstrikes.

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