26 Oct 2018

NZ soldiers leave for Iraq mission

8:36 am on 26 October 2018

New Zealand troops leave today for what could be the final on-the-ground mission in Iraq.

NZDF pers training with Australian counterparts at RAAF Edinburgh Base

Photo: NZDF

The government plans to review its deployment early next year, but for now, our troops are off to train Iraqi security forces.

Ninety fresh-faced personnel are leaving New Zealand later today - many of them have never been to Iraq.

They'll join about 300 Australian troops when they reach the Taji Military Camp, northwest of Baghdad, at the end of the month.

Former Prime Minister John Key made the decision to enter Iraq in 2015, but made clear it was in a non-combat role. Instead the focus was to be on training locals.

Since then, more than 39,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained by allied forces, which includes New Zealand.

Professor Robert Ayson from Victoria University said the mission had been worthwhile and achieved the goal of assisting in the fight against ISIS.

"ISIS has been defeated on the battle ground, but if you're thinking about the broader situation for Iraq's future security, there's not an awful lot that external powers can do to solve Iraq's internal security challenges," he said.

Professor Ayson said Australia was reviewing its commitment in Iraq, and if they leave, New Zealand may follow suit.

Major General Tim Gall, the Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, said Defence was sending fewer troops over as the Iraqis start to take control of their own training.

"We're just watching them, making sure they've got the resources they need and making sure we've provided the instructors with the skills they need to be able to do that training," he said.

The Green Party has been against the military intervention from the start and wants New Zealand to get out.

Defence spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman would rather see the money spent on the deployments put elsewhere.

"Through rebuilding efforts, through humanitarian aid, let's give the Iraqis their country back ... so their governance can return to a strong space where they can kind of rebuild their democracy as well hopefully," she said.

Ms Ghahraman has been pushing Defence Minister Ron Mark to end both the Iraq and Afghanistan deployments.

The government has said while the Iraqi Security Forces have made gains, further support was needed.

It plans to review its commitment early next year, which would look at options beyond June.

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