Australian special forces and aircraft will not be sent into Iraq until the Cabinet considers a risk assessment and the United Nations gives the operation the nod.
The first of 600 Australian Defence Force members will deploy to the Middle East within days to prepare to be part of an international effort to disrupt and degrade Isis (Islamic State) extremists.
The deployment will include up to eight F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft, refuelling and control aircraft, special forces and logistics experts.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the Government had so far decided only to pre-deploy forces to the United Arab Emirates. It had "a mind" to commit to combat operations under the right circumstances but that decision would be made after a full assessment of the risks. Such a move would also require a written invitation from the new Iraqi Government and the approval of UN leaders holding talks in New York next week.
"It is after that meeting takes place, after the coalition has crystallised, that final decisions are likely to be made," Abbott said.
He is refusing to put a time limit on Australia's commitment but says the deployment will not be open-ended.
"[It is] to protect people in Iraq from the murderous rage from this Isis movement," he told the Nine Network. "I'm not going to put a time limit on it. It'll certainly be months rather than weeks. And quite possibly many, many months."
But Abbott said the commitment was not open-ended and Australia could withdraw after the Iraqi Government and the Kurdish regional government regained "reasonable control".
"We're not trying to create a liberal pluralist democracy, we're not trying to create a shining city on the hill - what we're trying to do is to help the people of Iraq to help themselves, so the people based in their country will no longer threaten us," he told ABC television.
The White House said yesterday that it would find countries willing to send combat troops to fight Isis, but it was too early to identify them.
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough signalled that the State Department in coming days will name allies that will pledge ground troops to fight Isis, something the US does not plan to do.
He said US personnel would train and equip Iraqi forces and moderate Syrian rebels to combat the group.
Facing strong public opposition to sending United States troops back into the Middle East, President Barack Obama said he did not plan to do so. But he said ground troops of some sort were essential.
For the past week, Secretary of State John Kerry has travelled across the Middle East, to Turkey and finally Paris for a conference of diplomats on the Isis problem last night, to pin down nations on what kind of support they will give to a global coalition.
Kerry said some nations were still deciding whether their contributions would target foreign fighters or financiers helping the militant group, send more humanitarian aid to Syrian and Iraqi refugees, mount a propaganda campaign to decry the extremists' brand of radical Islam or join a military mission.AP, AAP