Brownlee hopes Taji attack timing just coincidence
Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee says the overnight suicide attack outside Camp Taji won't be a response to yesterday's mission extension, because Islamic extremists aren't "that sophisticated".
Four Iraqi soldiers and seven civilians killed when a car full of explosives rammed into a checkpoint just before 6pm last night (NZ time). No New Zealanders were hurt.
The attack came hours after Mr Brownlee and Prime Minister John Key announced Kiwi troops would be staying in Iraq 18 months longer than planned. Rather than pulling out in mid-2016, New Zealand will have a presence in the war-torn country until at least November 2018, helping train Iraqi troops fight Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL).
Speaking to Paul Henry this morning, Mr Brownlee said he hopes the timing of last night's suicide attack is just a coincidence, and not related to the announcement.
"I don't think there's anything else in it. I don't think they're that sophisticated."
Instead he puts it down to victories over IS, which has lost between a quarter and half of its territory in the past couple of years according to Pentagon estimates.
"As you see the Iraqi security forces putting more pressure on ISIL… then you're going to see more suicide bombers keeping the Iraqi troops back in Baghdad away from the front line," says Mr Brownlee. "It's a very, very cynical, nasty situation that those adherents to ISIL are finding themselves caught in."
While Mr Brownlee says a lot of thought went into deciding to extend the mission, the massacre in Orlando, Florida earlier this month highlights why New Zealand has to do its bit in fighting "that evil organisation".
He says it doesn't matter that US intelligence agencies have found no link between gunman Omar Mateen and IS.
"[Mateen] took his mandate from that particular evil doctrine. That's the one part of all of this we are not immune from."
Labour's Andrew Little says "propping up the Iraqi army" isn't ideal and if that's all New Zealand is doing, he'd rather them come home. But he would be happy to keep Kiwi troops there as part of a United Nations peacekeeping operation.
There are 66 countries involved in the US-led mission against IS, and Mr Brownlee says not to take part would be "quite negligent".
"We have family all over the world, and in some parts of the world where there is a greater tendency towards terrorist activity. If any of our people got caught up in that, we would rely heavily on our friends."
The Greens and New Zealand First also criticised the extension, with Green Party co-leader James Shaw saying the money should be spent on humanitarian efforts instead. Mr McCully yesterday also announced an extra $1.4 million in that area, which will go to the United Nations Development Programme.
It brings New Zealand's humanitarian spending in Iraq in the last five years to $23.9 million, while the estimated cost of the military training is now $50 million.