8 Jan 2020

Situation in Iraq under close review - Peters

7:19 pm on 8 January 2020

Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters says there's deep concerns over the escalation in the Middle East after Iran targeted two bases hosting US troops in Iraq.

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Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters says Camp Taji was not a target in the missile attacks today. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

In a statement, he said it was important to note that the missiles did not target Camp Taji, where New Zealand troops remain.

"The government has been informed that all New Zealand personnel are as safe as they can be in these developing circumstances."

Peters said it was time for restraint and diplomacy.

"The government is working actively with our partners through military and diplomatic channels, and we continue to keep the security situation under close review, including implications for our personnel."

NZ troops in Iraq won't be withdrawn early

Defence Minister Ron Mark

Defence Minister Ron Mark is not considering withdrawing troops from Iraq early. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Earlier today, Defence Minister Ron Mark said the government was not considering withdrawing troops from Iraq early.

Mark's comments were made just before knowledge of reports of attacks on multiple locations in Iraq, including the al-Asad airbase that hosts US forces.

Iraqi MPs passed a resolution this week calling for foreign troops to leave the country after the US killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike at Baghdad airport.

Canada has today announced it will move its troops from Iraq to Kuwait for their own safety, and Germany, Slovakia, Croatia have said they have done the same.

When Mark was asked whether he was considering the same, he said "no, I'm not".

"We will continue to monitor the situation," he said.

"This is a time for cool heads and calm. There are families back here in New Zealand who I guess can be sensitive to reporting - from our position and Defence's position it's about maintaining stringent situational awareness, making calm, cool, collected assessments."

He said despite Iraqi MPs passing a resolution for troops to leave, the Iraqi government had not formally asked New Zealand to withdraw.

Mark said he had absolute confidence on the leadership of the New Zealand Defence Force, and it was not up to him to make decisions for them.

"I as a minister will be guided by the quality and the level of advice that I receive, based on what I've seen personally."

"Yes, we are concerned about the situation," he said.

"As the Minister of Foreign Affairs has already said, we have called for a calm de-escalation. We would like to think that dialogue would play a part here."

Mark said New Zealand would continue to collaborate with coalition partners and make decisions based on the situation at the time.

"But at the moment it is a case of being alert, being aware, monitoring, and doing what we can to ensure we have our people as safe as possible."

In a statement after the missile attacks today, the National Party said New Zealand should keep troops on the ground in Iraq but have contingency plans to move them quickly

National Party's defence spokesperson Mark Mitchell said New Zealand had a "proud history" of work in the Middle East and should not be distracted from efforts to stabilise Iraq.

He said the Iraqi government should take all steps to control the security situation and make sure all coalition bases were protected.

However, he said there needed to be good contingency plans in place if Iraq lost control of the situation.

National Party's foreign affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee said the government briefed Opposition parties on Iraq earlier this week.

He said "now is the time for cool heads" and National shared the government's concerns over escalating hostilities.

The New Zealand government was already planning to withdraw troops by June this year.

Travel warning to New Zealanders

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is warning New Zealanders not to travel close to the Iranian border with Afghanistan and Iraq due to the threat of terrorism.

It has posted warnings to avoid non-essential travel since tensions began to ratchet up in the area.

The reviewed warning came shortly before 1pm and just minutes after the missile attack on US air bases in Iraq.

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