13 Feb 2015

Step closer to Iraq deployment decision

7:59 am on 13 February 2015

The decision on a deployment to Iraq will be one step closer today, with a high level meeting between the Iraqi Foreign Minister and senior government ministers from New Zealand.

Dr Ibrahim al-Ja'afari

Dr Ibrahim al-Ja'afari Photo: AFP

A formal request for assistance from Iraq now appears inevitable, but New Zealand ministers insist that will not be the deciding factor.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'afari is in New Zealand for a brief visit, with assistance in the fight against Islamic State on the agenda.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said he would not be surprised if there was a formal request from Dr al-Ja'afari.

"I don't know so, but I would expect that he's come here for a reason and if that reason is to convey a formal invitation I won't be surprised."

Mr McCully said if that did happen, it would only be the start of the process before any deployment could take place.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully

Foreign Minister Murray McCully Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Labour's defence spokesperson Phil Goff said there were some important questions New Zealand ministers should be asking Dr al-Ja'afari.

"Why would we put more lives, more money into training the Iraqi army when efforts by the Americans to the extent of $25 billion worth have failed to make any difference?"

Mr McCully said that was a valid question.

"The answer is that the previous government under Prime Minster al-Maliki took some of the leadership of the army out, took some of the resources that had been contributed and used them for other purposes and created a genuine mess.

"Now we have a new government that says that it's serious about improving the security arrangements and has asked for international assistance."

Further questions about New Zealand's possible contribution were prompted by President Barack Obama's request to the US Congress to authorise a three-year military campaign against Islamic State militants, which could include limited ground operations.

In the light of that request, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee was asked yesterday whether he was willing to put any timeframe on any possible New Zealand deployment.

"Well we haven't looked at any of those aspects of what might be our contribution at this point."

The Government insists any soldiers would only be sent to train Iraqi troops and would not be involved in active combat.

Mr Brownlee was asked whether he could rule that out.

"Well no more than I can rule out climate change or any other natural phenomenon that happens around the place."

Green Party global affairs spokesperson Kennedy Graham said the promise not to have New Zealand personnel involved in active combat was one the Government could not keep.

"They will no doubt go as trainers, but as trainers and advisors presumably you end up going around the country ... if you go around the country you become vulnerable to attack, if you're vulnerable to attack you'll exercise self defence - that's combat.

"Our people almost inevitably will be involved in combat, simple as that."

The meeting between Prime Minister John Key, the Defence Minister, the Foreign Minister and Dr al-Ja'afari will be held in Auckland this morning.

The Government will further consider the proposal to commit training troops to Iraq, with back up from special forces, on 23 February.