NZ to send non-combat force to Iraq

New Zealand will send a non-combat force of up to 106 to Iraq as part of the international contribution to the fight against Islamic State (IS).

In perhaps the Government's worst-kept secret, Prime Minister John Key made the announcement in the House this afternoon.

Labour leader Andrew Little asked for a vote to be held on whether New Zealand should send troops to Iraq, but it was turned down.

Mr Key says the New Zealand forces will likely work in a joint operation with Australia, but will not be a badged Anzac unit.

"Their task will be to train Iraqi Security Force units so they are able to commence combat operations and eventually able to carry on the work of our trainers, creating an independent, self-sustaining military capability for the government of Iraq to call on," Mr Key says.

The force will be deployed to the Taji Military Complex north of Baghdad and will also consist of staff officers, deploying in coalition headquarters and support facilities in the region, bringing the total to 143.

The deployment will likely take place in May and will be reviewed after nine months, with a maximum two-year period.

The Air Force will also be used in the region for support, including personnel rotations and resupplying.

Force protection will also be sent to guard the training force, which will consist of well-trained soldiers, not the SAS.

"A training mission like this is not without danger. It is not a decision we have taken lightly," Mr Key says.

"I have required assurances that our men and women will be as safe as they can practicably be in Taji."

Mr Key says an agreement on the legal protection for the troops in Iraq has not yet been sorted out.

"Exactly what form those legal protections take will be worked through in coming weeks with our Iraqi counterparts."

Aside from the non-combat force, the Government is looking into options to base a diplomatic representative in Baghdad as a conduit between the Iraqi government and the New Zealand military deployment.

New Zealand will also use its seat on the United Nations Security Council to advocate for action against IS.

"Sending our forces to Iraq is not an easy decision but it is the right decision."

During his speech in the House, Mr Little he said Kiwi troops should not be sent to Iraq, and claimed the Government had made its decision months ago.

"There is no case to do so," he says.

Mr Little says IS is not a "conventional enemy" because it crosses borders into multiple countries and says it is inevitable Kiwi troops will be involved in more than just behind-the-wire training.

"We're told we're sending troops to train the Iraqi Army. The Prime Minister says they will be behind-the-wire but we know they won't. They can't stick there. They can't stay there. That is not all they will do. They will not just be behind-the-wire; they will be exposed to the much wider conflict."

Travelling Kiwis will also be at risk, he says.

Mr Little says civil and economic reconstruction are more important for Iraq, as well as advice on good governance.

"Those are the things that will last a long time, that will build a nation state, that will give confidence to a people and enable them to take back their land and control of their country."

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman criticises the decision, saying the Government is "dragging us by the boot laces into another US-led Middle East war".

He criticises the stance of defending democracy in the Middle East, while the Government has not allowed a vote on whether to send troops to Iraq.

"He does not have a mandate and he knows it."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is also highly critical of not holding a vote on going into Iraq.

"If they are so right, as Mr Key concluded, that it is the right decision, then why not trust the people's institution called Parliament?

"Or is he special when it comes to these decisions where we go to war, not as a people or a country but as a government, because this is a minority decision.

"Our men and women are being thrown into the snake pit, where the snakes are biting anything and everything."

Mr Peters would have preferred Parliament gave a mandate for the troops to go to Iraq, "not just an arrogant government making a minority decision".

All other political parties are against the action, including the Government's allies, United Future and the Maori Party.

3 News

source: newshub archive