Prior to the last election Labour, NZ First and the Greens all opposed the current deployment of New Zealand troops to Iraq. Labour specifically promised to withdraw them, but nothing has happened yet.
Now Australia is leaning on our government to extend the deployment beyond its current end date in November. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made that plain during her visit here last week.
There are several reasons why our troops should be pulled out as soon as possible.
Firstly, they compromise our independence. The troops are there at the behest of the American government to add another flag in a US-led military “coalition” which has done so much damage since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Secondly, there has been mission creep, which we have not always been told about. For example, the troops have not been just training Iraqi troops, “behind the wire” at Taji base, as John Key had us believe at the outset. They have secretly been given permission, probably last year, to operate elsewhere in Iraq including at the Qayyarah West Airfield, near Mosul. Prime Minister Adern says they haven’t actually operated from there so far.
Further, this week researcher Harmeet Sooden has produced documents showing that last year the training unit was secretly given permission to help Australian troops to “mentor” or “advise and assist” Iraqi troops. It is unclear exactly the extent of this assistance, but Sooden said it has included collecting biometric data on Iraqi troops (which Adern confirmed) and helping the coalition use drone imagery.
Thirdly, from early on the New Zealand deployment has involved more than a training contingent. It has included Kiwi officers who have been inserted into the coalition command. One such person is Brigadier Hugh McAslan, who was appointed deputy commander of the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command – Operation Inherent Resolve.
Brigadier McAslan seriously compromised New Zealand’s good name when, speaking on behalf of the coalition last year, he supported the use of white phosphorus weapons in the battle for Mosul. He was justifying the use of an incendiary weapon banned under Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons. As the Independent newspaper explained, “if particles of ignited white phosphorus land on a person’s body, they can continue to burn through flesh to the bone. Toxic phosphoric acid can also be released into the wounds, risking phosphorous poisoning. Inhaling the smoke can cause damage to the heart, liver and kidneys.”
Fourthly, it’s bad to be locked into to America’s political and military strategy for Iraq after the defeat of ISIS. The largely Shia Iraqi government is but one player in a many sided contest. There are also powerful Shia militia (some with allegiance to Iran), two Kurdish forces, armed Sunni tribes, and Turkish troops conducting operations in northern Iraq. The United States has often backed players that have increased divisions, rather than healed the wounds. Current American policies have been disastrous in Syria, the Yemen and Palestine. Why do we expect them to be better in Iraq?
It’s wrong to paint a rosy picture of the Iraqi government forces trained by New Zealand and other foreign forces. They are also capable of horrific war crimes. In a Guardian article entitled After the Liberation of Mosul, an Orgy of Killing, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad described the widespread torture and revenge executions carried out by Iraqi forces after they had beaten ISIS.
Fifthly, there is a much better role for New Zealand in Iraq. We could be helping with social, economic and humanitarian programs, for which there is a great need after the destructive war with ISIS. Such programs would be more effective if we didn’t have troops there and weren’t seen to be tied to American policies.