NZ public 'misled' on extent of Iraq mission - campaigner

The NZ Defence Force.
The NZ Defence Force. Photo credit: Getty

New Zealand soldiers in Iraq quietly expanded their training role without the public being told, according to a report by a human rights campaigner.

Harmeet Sooden, the New Zealander kidnapped in Iraq in 2005 and held for four months, has released a draft report into the NZ Defence Force's activities in the war-torn Middle East country. It was published by Stuff on Monday.

Mr Sooden was quoted saying information about the role in Iraq has been omitted, saying as a result, the New Zealand public has been misled.

In July last year, the Government expanded NZDF's mandate to "provide advise-and-assist support to the Iraqi Army's North Baghdad Operations Command", Mr Sooden said.

Later in the year, the soldiers at Taji were involved in planning and coordinating coalition operations, planning and conducting logistics functions, integrating coalition resources into missions as well as conducting training needs analysis, he said.

"The New Zealand Government has not publicised the advise-and-assist aspect of Task Group Taji's role," Mr Sooden said.

The Government also did not make public it had authorised the soldiers to train Iraqis at Qayyarah West Airfield, about 60km south of Mosul, the city liberated from Islamic State last year.

New Zealand soldiers were also collecting biometric information from Iraqi soldiers at Camp Taji. Biometrics information could include the finger print data, eye scans or DNA collection.

Mr Sooden says the Government cannot guarantee how the information could be used, and is concerned ethnic data could be used against people in sectarian conflict.

"The military use of biometrics in Iraq has historically had adverse human rights impacts. The biometric information collected by the NZDF is also potentially accessible to United States' intelligence agencies."

Mark Mitchell, who was Defence Minister under the previous National Government, said in a statement to Stuff there was no change to New Zealand's mandate in Iraq beyond troop training carried out behind fencing at military camps.

NZDF and current Defence Minister Ron Mark have been contacted for comment.

New Zealand has about 100 soldiers taking part in Task Group Taji, as the combined New Zealand and Australian task group is called.

It has trained more than 28,000 Iraqi Security Force personnel since its mission began in May 2015.

The training mission has been extended to November 2018, and last week Foreign Minister Winston Peters said no decision had yet been made about whether it would be continued beyond then.

NZN/Newshub.