21 Sep 2018

Green Party disappointed with Iraq decision

9:46 am on 21 September 2018

The government's junior partner is criticising the government's decision to stay on in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman on the Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade select committee.

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman on the Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade select committee. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The Green Party said the money would be better spent on humanitarian relief and the soldiers should be brought home now.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has pushed the deployment out until June next year, but hasn't ruled out pulling the plug on the training mission then.

That's despite the former Labour Party leader Andrew Little's opposition to the deployments, calling the soldiers' training mission in Iraq "redundant".

The mandate to stay was due to run out in November but Ms Ardern is now saying there are good reasons not to leave.

She would reassess New Zealand's deployment to Iraq early next year, she said.

"We have trained a significant number of security forces, my estimates that I've been given are up to 37,000.

"But now it's a question of whether or not in the future it might move to instead of training cadets to actually training trainers, and of course that would require a much smaller deployment.

"It might be a reconstruction role, it may be a humanitarian role. But it is a dynamic environment. Our view is that although it's unlikely it will stay exactly as it is now, but Cabinet is allowing itself the space to reconsider that next year."

The non-combat joint mission with Australia to Iraq began in 2015, as part of the 'defeat ISIS coalition'.

Islamic State remains a threat, Ms Ardern said, including to New Zealanders, particularly overseas - and that will factor in to any decision they make.

"The destabilisation that they cause affects all of us, and there is potential for New Zealanders wherever they are in the globe to be caught in the cross fire of some of the activity by Islamic State. But we all have a responsibility to contribute to countering terrorism," she said.

At the same time, they'll also look at Afghanistan.

New Zealand has contributed to the situation in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years, since 2001.

Defence Minister Ron Marks told Morning Report the Labour Party had changed its policy position on military engagement in Iraq because mass corruption within the Iraqi army no longer existed and that he had seen first-hand ''the value New Zealand troops had delivered" in training Iraqi soldiers.

He said after speaking to the Iraqi government while visiting the country it was apparent progress had been made.

"They really value what our troops have done," he said. "Our troops have changed the way they operate, they've changed the way they lead their men in to battle...

"They were very clear to me that the successes they were enjoying were as a result of the training that our people, along with the Australians, were giving them."

He conceded that the National Party had been right to send army personnel to Iraq in 2015 and said deployment could again be extended beyond June next year, depending on circumstances.

But the Greens said we should withdraw now and they didn't like the government's call to extend the deployments.

MP Golriz Ghahraman said we'd do much better to make a point of pulling our troops out and spending the millions of dollars equivalent, on humanitarian relief in the Middle East.

"That money could so much better be spent on humanitarian aid, on ensuring that our diplomacy is focused on ending these proxy wars in the Middle East. And you know, I have some personal experience of what that feels like.

"Victims on the ground actually would rather infrastructure be built properly or rebuilt after it's been damaged, would rather have access to medicine, would rather have their schools and hospitals rebuilt."

However, National Party leader Simon Bridges is pleased Labour's come around and is facing up to the responsibilities of government. He said it's necessary for New Zealand to make a military contribution on the world stage.

"The government when in opposition wasn't as supportive, they called it 'mission creep' when we did similar.

"But look, I think it's pleasing that they've come around to our view. It's a sensible set of decisions that they've made on the extensions of our forces offshore."

When it comes to the case for a withdrawal, Mr Bridges said that's a decision that must be made with very careful consideration. He said withdrawing troops is always an option, but an extension to the deployments now was the right thing to do.