13 Dec 2017

Exploit NZ's leverage in Iraq, says expert

7:15 am on 13 December 2017

New Zealand should pressure Iraq into political reform in return for training its security forces, to help ensure the country's long-term victory over Islamic State, a visiting expert says.

A New Zealand Defence Force trainer instructs ISF soldiers in correct weapons firing positions. Iraq 2015

A NZ Defence Force trainer instructs Iraqi Security Force soldiers in correct weapons firing positions Photo: New Zealand Defence Force

Visiting American counter-terrorism expert Matthew Levitt is a senior fellow and director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

He has had senior roles with the US Treasury, the FBI and the Department of State.

Dr Levitt warns unless countries like New Zealand, Australia and the US put pressure on Iraq to give the minority Sunnis a voice in government, at the least, the "bad old movie" would be replayed.

Iraq has declared complete victory in its three-year war against Islamic State.

Roughly 140 New Zealand personnel have been deployed to Iraq since 2015 to help train the Iraqi Security Force, and more recently local police.

Matthew Levitt

Matthew Levitt Photo: Supplied

Dr Levitt said New Zealand should continue to help out through its training mission, but there should be "strings attached" when it came to reforming Iraq's political system.

"By virtue of having invested time and personnel and training and expertise we all have leverage with Iraq but none of us are using it well, if at all," he said.

"Iraq needs and deserves our help but it shouldn't be without any strings attached.

"And those strings should be focussed on maintaining the victory of having kicked out the Islamic State and building in Iraq a country that will be representative of all its people."

Former National Party Defence Minister Mark Mitchell said New Zealand was well aware of the suppression of minorities by Iraqi security forces in the past.

"And we've been watching very carefully to make sure that that sort of behaviour did not manifest itself again."

But he disagreed a deployment to another sovereign country should be on a 'quid pro quo' basis.

"I don't think we'd be in any position to start putting demands on Iraq in terms of how they govern themselves and how they run their democratic processes.

However, we would have a very clear expectation in terms of the way the troops and security forces behave."

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said within arrangements like the one between New Zealand and Iraq there would always be a degree of influence.

Winston Peters reacts to North Korea missile test.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

"To the extent you'd expect them to take counsel and advice and consultation, or even influence ... that would be in historic terms inevitable."

But he said that should not be "over-exaggerated".

The mission is due to end next November - any requests for an extension would have to be considered by Cabinet.

Mr Peters said any developments in Iraq would be taken into account when the deployment is reviewed next year.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs