NZ 'invited' to help in Iraq

Murray McCully
Murray McCully
Iraq has not issued a specific invitation for New Zealand troops to train the Iraqi army, but has issued a general invitation to the international community for support, the country's foreign minister says.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully today met his Iraqi counterpart Dr Ibrahim al-Ja'afari in Auckland, in what was the first time an Iraqi foreign minister has set foot on NZ soil.

Mr McCully said Dr al-Ja'afari made it clear that Iraq was looking for assistance from the international community in the fight against Isil in assistance, training, logistics, reconstruction and capacity building forms.

"They are looking for support and assistance from countries, not only those that are inside the formal coalition, which we are, but also some countries outside it," he said.

"He's nominated areas which they hope the countries will be able to provide that support, we've made it clear that there are some of those areas that are not appropriate for New Zealand."

Mr McCully said: "I think we've had an invitation," but further discussions were needed before New Zealand made any formal commitment.

"I have taken the opportunity to outline for Dr al-Ja'afari the process that has seen the New Zealand Government already make humanitarian contributions to challenges in the region, but also in the process by which we are giving consideration to delivering other support.

"I have also taken the opportunity at exploring with the foreign minister briefly the sorts of mechanical issues that we would need to resolve in order to provide further support - especially in the training area," Mr McCully said.

Talks between Mr McCully and Dr al-Ja'afari are due to continue today, before he meets with Prime Minister John Key and Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee this afternoon.

New Zealand already has troops training for any deployment and a team of military in Iraq scoping out what role New Zealand could play and assessing factors such as safety.

Prime Minister John Key announced earlier this year that he was considering deploying troops to help train Iraqi forces but has repeatedly said it would not commit to any combat role. He has also said any contribution would be contingent on an invite from Iraq.

US President Barack Obama this week said he intended to seek permission from Congress for a three-year authorisation to step up efforts in Iraq, including deploying some special forces on the ground. The US has been undertaking air strikes since last August but has not deploy combat troops.

Mr McCully said New Zealand would make its own decisions and repeated Mr Key's assurance it would only commit to training roles 'behind the wire.' Asked about the three-year time frame President Obama had mentioned, Mr McCully said the Prime Minister had made it clear he was not interested in a long-term arrangement. Three years was "longish."

However, Labour's defence spokesman Phil Goff was sceptical about whether Obama's move would result in deeper involvement by New Zealand. He said the Government was softening up New Zealand for a greater role and predicted Mr Key would agree to consider it if there was a US request for combat involvement.

Mr McCully said he would raise the issue of corruption in the Iraqi Army - on the factors Labour have put forward as an argument against any involvement. "Those were perfectly reasonable questions given the history and we will ask those questions."

However, he said the Government had changed and a constructive approach with the new regime was needed.


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