Two Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F/A-18F Super Hornets conduct air to air refuelling in Iraq. (AAP/Australian Department of Defence, Sergeant Hamish Paterson)

Two Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F/A-18F Super Hornets conduct air to air refuelling in Iraq. (AAP/Australian

Australian special forces soldiers have been cleared to start working on the ground in Iraq with local troops against Islamic State.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is expected to tell the nation today the Iraqi government has given its final legal approval for the ground forces, which number up to 200 and have been awaiting the all-clear from an air base in the United Arab Emirates, Fairfax Media reports.

The elite troops include experts who will work with the RAAF Super Hornets and Wedgetail surveillance and control planes to call in air strikes on moving IS targets.

However, their focus reportedly is on bolstering the Iraqi units to avoid the military collapses that allowed IS to seize so much territory in recent months.

A detailed legal agreement with the new government in Baghdad was needed to ensure Australian Defence Force personnel have the necessary legal cover if, for instance, they are involved in the deaths of civilians.

Two RAAF Super Hornets yesterday completed Australia’s first combat mission in Iraq, providing air cover for local troops in the country’s north, though they were not called in to launch weapons.

The former Chief of Air Force, retired Air Marshal Geoff Shepherd, said yesterday it will be more difficult to contain IS by air power alone because the militants have begun to “melt back into the population”.