WTF Was Wyatt Roy Doing In Iraq, And Was It Illegal?

'We're talking about a war zone, this is not a Contiki tour'.

30/09/2016 9:21 AM AEST | Updated 30/09/2016 10:40 AM AEST
Fairfax Media
Wyatt Roy's Iraq trip is coming under scrutiny.

When news broke on Thursday that former federal Liberal MP Wyatt Roy came under fire from ISIS troops during an impromptu trip into northern Iraq, the question on many people's lips would have been: "Wait, what?"

The initial shock was followed soon after by the follow-up: "Hang on, why was he even there?"

Roy, the youngest MP ever elected to parliament when he won the seat of Longman in 2010 and the youngest ever minister at age 25, lost his seat at the July election. Since then, he seems to have been enjoying a newfound, relatively relaxing life -- his social media feeds show him going in fun runs and spending time at home. He was also recently named director of a venture capital startup fund.

On September 7, he tweeted a photo of a Qantas plane on a tarmac, with the caption, "See you in a little bit". The next day, he posted a photo from Tel Aviv, Israel. At some point between September 8 and September 22, he made it to Iraq.

As SBS revealed on Thursday afternoon, Roy said he was visiting Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Sinjar in northern Iraq when Islamic State fighters began an assault on the outpost. Sinjar is not far from Mosul, which has been declared by the Australian government as a "declared zone" where "a listed terrorist organisation is engaging in hostile activity". It is a criminal offence for an Australian to enter Mosul unless "solely for a legitimate purpose".

Australian National Security
Sinjar, circled in red, and Mosul, in shaded red

So the question is, what was Roy doing there, and was it illegal?

Roy told The Huffington Post Australia that he had long had a special interest in the Kurdistan region, and had previously advocated for an increase in the number of refugees from that area.

"It is something very close to my heart and something I have spoken about. Something I have been criticised for," he told HuffPost Australia.

"I thought it was important that I had a look at the situation here. As a politician, I would not have been able to make this trip," he said.

"You would have been in the bubble of political meetings."

Roy said he had been spending time with Peshmerga "who are facing off pure evil with incredible resolve".

The Peshmerga are a military group based in Kurdistan, northern Iraq. They have been engaged in conflict with ISIS since 2014, when ISIS forces entered Kurd territory and killed thousands of Yazidis -- a minority religion that combines Christianity, Judaism and Islam -- and took thousands more as slaves in Sinjar. The local people were driven into the mountains, where coalition forces dropped aid packages and targeted the ISIS troops.

In The Australian newspaper, Roy said his Iraq visit was part of "an extended trip to countries that I have an interest in".

"I was there to see a mate, get a feel for the environment, and talk to policymakers and industry leaders about their experience," he said.

Roy said he had a special interest in the Kurdistan region.

"Kurdistan is completely unique in the Middle East," he told HuffPost Australia while at Erbil's airport.

"Often the West has very good reasons for adopting a one Iraq policy, but that does actually not reflect the status quo here on the ground."

"The Kurdish people really are offering the Middle East an inclusive, peaceful and prosperous society if they can overcome the political, economic and security challenges that they face."

But was his trip in breach of Australian law? Roy told us that "the only declared zone here is Mosul and I did not go anywhere near Mosul". Sinjar, the town where he said he came under attack, is about 75 kilometres from the border of the Mosul district, according to maps on the DFAT website.

Australian National Security
A more detailed map of the area

SBS reported that a counter-terrorism expert has said Roy did not breach any laws by travelling to that region, but Greens attorney-general and immigration spokesman Nick McKim has raised questions.

"The Australian travel advice does not distinguish between Iraq and Kurdistan. That is almost completely unique," Roy told HuffPost Australia.

"There are a number of Australians [in Sinjar] working for NGOs. Of course there are journalists here and I think that context is very important."

But Roy's protests and explanations aren't flying with either side of politics. Labor has slammed him repeatedly since news broke, with Penny Wong saying "warzones are not places for people to act out their boyhood fantasies" and Richard Marles saying it was "profoundly stupid, profoundly selfish".

"We are talking about a war zone, this is not a Contiki tour here," he quipped.

Even some of Roy's former colleagues and supporters have taken him to task. Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop said he was "irresponsible" and "acted in defiance of government advice", citing the risk of "physical harm and capture". Even one of Roy's biggest supporters, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, turned on him during a radio interview on Friday:

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