Government's roll-back of troops in Iraq praised

The Government's decision to steadily pull troops out of Iraq over the next year has been praised by the Green Party and a leading law expert.

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a phased draw-down of troops in Iraq which will conclude the mission at Camp Taji in June next year.

There are currently 95 Kiwi troops training Iraqi soldiers at Camp Taji, and under the Government's plan, the first tranche of personnel will return home in July, followed by another group in January. The full deployment will end by June 2020.

They were first deployed in May 2015 by then-Prime Minister John Key in non-combat roles to help with a multinational effort to defeat Islamic State.

The initial deadline of May 2017 was extended to November 2018 by Key, and then last September, Ardern extended it again.

Over 44,000 ISF personnel have been trained at Taji since 2015.

Ardern said progress had been made and it was now time to conclude New Zealand's commitment.

"Four years ago New Zealand made a commitment to the Iraqi Government and to the Coalition to train the ISF at Taji and lift their capability to defeat and prevent the resurgence of ISIS," she said.

"Over the next 12 months, New Zealand will be able to wind down and conclude that commitment."

Waikato University Law Professor Al Gillespie told Newshub it was the right decision.

"We have trained up to 25 percent of the Iraqi army, and remarkably, we have had no causalities. The result of that training is that Islamic State has been defeated in Iraq," he said.

"Doing what we did to stop the downfall of Iraq was a difficult decision to make, but the correct decision at the time and the result has been a very good one."

He said the focus of troops can now move to anti-corruption and human rights efforts.

"We need to be moving our effort going from what we call green to blue, start helping training the police, start working with the civil service and the like."

Golriz Ghahraman.
Golriz Ghahraman. Photo credit: Getty.

Green Party defence spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said the party welcomed the Government's decision, saying New Zealand was showing an "independent principled voice against war".

"We are so pleased that our military is finally going to focus more on what the Green Party has always advocated for, which is humanitarian aid delivery, environmental monitoring, assisting with our deployment in Antarctica," she told Newshub.

New Zealand's commitment to troops in Afghanistan will also be scaled back by December next year.

"We would hope that that military aspect of the deployment ends as soon as possible and that we actually join the UN mission as part of a collaboration of nations that are building stronger governance in that country so we can actually move towards peace there," said Ghahraman.

Afghanistan has hosted a New Zealand military contribution since 2001. Since 2013, the NZDF has contributed personnel - currently 11 - just outside of Kabul to mentor Afghan National Security Forces, and their deployment expires in September.

Islamic State has been seen as weakening and having lost major territory, but New Zealand will continue to contribute funding of approximately $3m per annum for the next three years to help affected communities rebuild.

"Despite its territorial defeat in Iraq in December 2017 and Syria in March 2019, it is clear that ISIS remains a threat and Iraq requires ongoing international support as it moves towards recovery and stabilisation," said Foreign Minister Winston Peters.

"As large numbers of Iraqi people return home and begin to rebuild their lives and communities, New Zealand's targeted funding support can make a meaningful contribution towards this."


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