2 Dec 2014

Iraq role would respect tradition - Key

5:01 pm on 2 December 2014

The Government would not go ahead with any joint deployment to Iraq which disrespects New Zealand soldiers who have served under the Anzac banner in the past, Prime Minister John Key says.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (left) and John Key in Darwin.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (left) and John Key in Darwin last month. Photo: RNZ / Patrick Omeara

The government is still carrying out a scoping mission about a possible contribution to the fight against Islamic State in Iraq, involving defence force personnel.

Mr Key has said New Zealand could join Australia in an Anzac-badged training unit, but insists that would not extend into any combat activities.

The unit would train local forces and protection for the personnel would be provided by regular force soldiers Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little said the party objected to sending any training troops at all, and questioned the concept of an Anzac-badged unit, saying Australian special forces would be in Iraq in a combat role.

"I think it's pretty cynical of the Prime Minister to allow us to be drawn in to a joint role with the Australians under some sort of sentimental throwback to the Anzacs."

"We know that training exercises can turn into combat work," Mr Little told Morning Report, so dressing it up as Anzac troops with some sort of sentimental play to the centenary of Gallipoli and Anzac - no, that doesn't cut it, that looks too cute by half," said Mr Little.

However John Key said any joint arrangement would be approached with care.

"Well, we wouldn't want to do something that's disrespectful and we're quite a way I think from making a decision.

"But, I think there would also be quite a lot of people that would say Australia and New Zealand working collaboratively together in a range of different fields makes sense."

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said New Zealand troops were already training for a possible deployment.

He said training was focused on skills which needed time to develop, such as language and cultural training, and risk-mitigation measures.

"The army's probably looking at what sort of preparation they'd need if they're called on but it's still a long way from a decision," said Mr Brownlee.

NZ Army soldiers carry out patrols at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California last year as part of exercise Dawn Blitz.

NZ soldiers carry out patrols at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California last year as part of exercise Dawn Blitz. Photo: NZ DEFENCE FORCE / US Marine Corps

The director of Otago University's National Centre for Peace and Conflict studies, Professor Kevin Clements, told the programme such a deployment would have no strategic advantage whatever.

"Even if it is a small training contingent, what's the point of a small training contingent when if you read the New York Times of 23 November there is enormous anxiety about the ongoing capacity and incapacity of the Iraqi military and its government to utilise any of the training or any of the resources that have been poured into it."

Robert Ayson of Victoria University's Centre for Strategic Studies said the military in Australia and New Zealand had been seeking opportunities to work together.

"Some of the advantages might be that working with a larger force and a traditional partner would bring greater levels of protection."

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