PM's Iraq trip a 'whitewash'

Prime Minister John Key in Iraq
Prime Minister John Key in Iraq

John Key's secret visit to New Zealand troops in Iraq was nothing but a public relations exercise and a "whitewash" of the reality, the Green Party says.

The Prime Minister's trip was hit with a number of delays due to sandstorms and fog and was kept secret for security reasons.

He spent time with 104 Kiwi troops sent to Camp Taji outside of Baghdad to help train and support the Iraqi Army as part of a joint mission with Australia.

Mr Key called the concrete base in the middle of the desert a "goddamn awful place" and said the country's two-year commitment to being there was "about right".

He also met with Iraq's Prime Minister and President during a day-trip to Baghdad.

But Greens' defence spokesman Kennedy Graham says while Mr Key praised the security of the base, he did not mention a damning Pentagon report about the internal working of the camp.

"Our troops need to come home now. They should return because we can make a far greater, and longer-lasting, contribution by capacity building in the Iraqi government and propping up democracy than we will ever do with 16 military trainers," he says.

"New Zealand troops will always face real risks in Iraq.  Whitewashing it for the consumption of the New Zealand public is a poor form of populist politics."

New Zealand First deputy leader and defence spokesman Ron Mark says the US report shows how underprepared and ill-equipped the Iraq Army that New Zealand is training actually is.

The report says militia, such as Islamic State, are "better equipped" than those trying to stop them.

It also shows a lack of knowledge about what is being stored in supply warehouses on the Taji National Depot, with some Iraqi Army personnel not even knowing what supplies they had.

Mr Mark claims Mr Key will change his mind about the length of deployment for Kiwi troops.

"There clearly is a follow-on mission in Iraq because the Pentagon says miscommunication about this mission is causing issues between trainers and command.  The Prime Minister may adamantly say no now, but he is also a serial flip-flopper."

But Mr Key's visit to the camp was supported by both Labour's acting leader Annette King and National MP Judith Collins on the Paul Henry programme this morning.

"He made the decision with his Cabinet to send them there. Not all of us agree with that, but now they're there I think it is right he goes there and supports them," Ms King said.

"He did remind me a bit of G.I John."

Ms Collins said that if a leader is going to send troops into inhospitable places, they should be prepared to go there themselves.

"If you don't go in there then you have no idea what they're working in and it really makes you appreciate what they're doing and also the progress they're making with their work, so it is a big boost for the troops," she said.

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