10 Jun 2019

NZ PM Jacinda Ardern announces Iraq troops withdrawal

6:43 pm on 10 June 2019

The government has announced plans to pull New Zealand troops out of Iraq by June 2020.

Jacinda Ardern and Ron Mark

Jacinda Ardern and Ron Mark at the announcement today. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement in the post-Cabinet briefing at 4pm today.

There are currently up to 95 troops at Camp Taji training Iraqi soldiers and it's understood the government plans to end the deployment by June 2020.

Ms Ardern extended the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan in September last year. New Zealand has been on a joint mission with Australia in Taji Camp since 2015.

"Cabinet has made decisions on several New Zealand Defence Force and peacekeeping missions," Ms Ardern said at today's post-Cabinet press conference.

"Firstly the government will change but ultimately continue its deployment in Afghanistan for 18 months until the 31st of December 2020. I am also announcing that we will conclude our training misison in Iraq by June 2020."

Watch Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Defence Minister Ron Mark at today's post-Cabinet press conference:

The clear message from the government last year was both the Iraq and Afghanistan deployments would be extended to fulfil commitments New Zealand had made, but complete withdrawals would be considered this year.

Even then, the size of the Iraq mission was reduced from 143 personnel to 121, with most based at Taji Camp.

Defence Minister Ron Mark told Checkpoint the deployment had met its committments and it was time to leave.

"What we went into Iraq to do, at the request of the Iraqi government, was to train their personnel so that they could take their part in the defeat Isis campaign and recover control of their own country.

"In the time we've been there, we've trained over 44,000 ISF personnel and we're at the point now where we've had conversations with Australia and we believe we have done all we need to do into our transitioning into training the trainers."

"We will be downsizing alongside them, working with them, not just walking away from the mission.

"I think it's a carefully planned exit strategy and it's one in which all partners and everybody supports."

In May, Mr Mark said the security environment after the Christchurch mosque attacks would be one factor ministers take into account in making the decision, alongside foreign policy considerations.

Last year, the coalition government extended the Iraq deployment until the end of June, while Cabinet considered the long-term future of New Zealand's contribution to the US-led operation against Islamic State.

The landscape has changed considerably in Iraq since last year's decision, including victory being declared over ISIS in neighbouring Syria.

In May, Mr Mark said while that might be a victory on the ground, it was not a victory over the ideology.

There were numerous foreign policy considerations as well as those at home, he said, including the security environment in the aftermath of the Christchurch shootings.

"Everybody in the 'defeat-ISIS' coalition understands and accepts this is going to continue for quite some time.

"ISIS is fluid, it's adjusting the way in which it operates as we fully anticipated it would and I don't think anyone's blind to the fact that ISIS is arguably going to go back into what they have done in the past - rely on pure terrorism, extremely violent terrorist at that,'' Mr Mark said.

Defence Minister Ron Mark

Defence Minister Ron Mark today. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

New Zealand has 13 people from the Defence Force in Afghanistan. The decision was made last year to extend that deployment until the end of September but Ms Ardern is also expected to announce a decision on that deployment today.

In October last year, 90 personnel left for an on-the-ground mission in Iraq.

Back then, Green Party defence spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said she would rather see the money spent on the deployments put elsewhere.

"Through rebuilding efforts, through humanitarian aid, let's give the Iraqis their country back ... so their governance can return to a strong space where they can kind of rebuild their democracy as well hopefully," she said.

Ms Ghahraman had been pushing Defence Minister Ron Mark to end both the Iraq and Afghanistan deployments.

Former prime minister John Key made the decision to enter Iraq in 2015, but made clear it was in a non-combat role. Instead the focus was to be on training locals.

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