Prime Minister John Key raised a major debate in New Zealand following his announcement in Parliament on February 23 that 143 military personnel will be deployed in the troubled parts of Iraq to fight Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Mr Key said that New Zealand would be sending in May a non-combat training mission with Australia to Taji Camp, north of Baghdad to help Iraqi troops fighting ISIL.
Up to 143 New Zealand personnel will be sent although the deployment will not be a badged mission. It will be reviewed after nine months and last no more than two years.
The deployments will be for logistics support to the other coalition partners including USA, Australia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) countries.
Mr Key said that ISIL posed security threats beyond the Middle East and as a responsible international player, New Zealand had an obligation to commit its troops.
Besides, the Wellington Declaration (November 2010) called for a closer Washington-Wellington security partnership and as a member of the ‘Five Eyes Intelligence Framework’ New Zealand should stand up as a support to the coalition.
Further as a Non-Permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, the country has pulled its weight behind the ‘Responsibility to Protect Doctrine.’
However, Labour Party of New Zealand, notably Leader Andrew Little, Foreign Affairs Spokesman David Shearer, former Foreign Minister Phil Goff and former Cabinet Minister David Cunliffe (all sitting Members of Parliament) have questioned the rationale behind the decision. According to them, New Zealand cannot commit its troops to Iraq without a UN mandate or UN Security Council resolution.
New Zealand has indeed sent troops to troubled regions of Africa but only after a mandate was issued by the UN. The country’s Defence White Paper 2010 emphasised this aspect and noted that the move had bi-partisan support.
According to polls, a majority of New Zealanders were not in favour of sending troops to Iraq even in non-combat role. The country’s Muslim population has also raised its concerns over the recent counter-terrorism mechanism of the New Zealand Security Service.
Mr Key’s defence is that after the terror attacks in Ottawa, Sydney and Paris, it became clear that the risk associated with the ISIL and its call for an Islamic Caliphate under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi cannot be taken lightly.
New Zealand would have to contend with internal security threats associated with the government’s decision to send troops to Iraq.
Security experts in New Zealand have been speculating on the timing of the decision. Some say that the government decided in October 2014 when its Chief of Defence Staff Lieutenant General Tim Keating visited Washington to attend the annual meeting of the coalition military leaders.
Balaji Chandramohan is our Delhi Correspondent. Please read our Editorial, “Nothing but Hobson’s choice on Iraq’ in this Section.
Prime Minister John Key defends his government’s decision in Parliament on February 24 with Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee