A small force of Australian troops has been sent to Baghdad to protect the Australian embassy as Iraq teeters on the brink of sectarian war.
A spokesman for Defence Minister David Johnston said that a ''small Australian Defence Force liaison element has been deployed to the Australian embassy in Baghdad to support security arrangements''.
Fairfax Media reported earlier this week that elite SAS soldiers could be sent to Baghdad to evacuate diplomats if the security situation in the Iraqi capital deteriorated sharply.
Senator Johnston's spokesman refused on security grounds to say how many troops were now going, nor what kind of force they represent.
It means Australian troops are returning to the chaotic and dangerous country barely six months after the last of them were withdrawn from the eight-year Iraq war.
Australia withdrew most of its forces in mid-2008, when then prime minister Kevin Rudd declared "mission over".
But 11 Australian military officers continued to serve with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) in a deployment known as Operation Riverbank until November last year.
More to come