New Zealand’s defence partners, particularly the Australians, will have breathed a sigh of relief with the news yesterday that our troops are to stay in Iraq until at least June next year,
It may not be what they would ideally want, but given that both the Greens and NZ First and former Labour Andrew Little opposed them being there at all, the move announced yesterday suggested a new sense of real-politic coursing through the Cabinet’s veins.
However, Winston Peters did not join the Prime Minister for the announcement even though the press statement proclaiming the news was a joint statement between her and Peters and Defence Minister Ron Mark.
And Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing the move at her weekly post-Cabinet Press conference said the decision to end the deployment would be reviewed next year.
Meanwhile, the number will reduce from 143 to 121 personnel from November of this year.
She said the re assessment would consider “New Zealand’s options for contributing to stability in Iraq beyond June 2019.”
“We’re considering all options, but my expectation is that needs are changing and will change,” she said.
“We’ve played different roles in Iraq before, but I wouldn’t expect it to remain exactly as it is today.”
Ardern will be under pressure to pull the troops out when she makes that re-assessment.
The Greens have consistently opposed the deployment and last night co-Leader James Shaw said they opposed the extension Ardern announced.
“We’ve always said that if New Zealand was to play a role there now or in the future, it should be humanitarian aid, reconstruction or peacekeeping,” he told POLITIK.
Shaw said he was optimistic that the Greens could convince the Prime Minister to pull the troops out.
“And my sense is that the public would back us,” he said.
When the deployment was announced in 2015, NZ First and Leader Winston Peters opposed it.
Speaking in Parliament the day the deployment was announced in February 2015 he said: “Why are we heading into a conflict that so predictably will not end? “
“This move does not comply with our status on the UN Security Council,” he said.
“This move does not comply with our demand in the past for the UN to give us sanction when we went in, in 1991, and joined that war—all, of course, about oil and not too much else.
“We are not working under the legal umbrella of the United Nations, just on request from one of the Iraqi factions with a grudge against others.”
Ironically yesterday Peters’ name was on the press statement announcing the extension of the deployment, but unusually, he was not standing with the Prime Minister in the Beehive theatrette for the announcement of the extension.
Usually, Ministers who are co-authors of press statements join Ardern for the subsequent press conference.
Labour’s then leader, Andrew Little, opposed the deployment in 2015.
“Labour’s position is clear,” he said.
“We should not send troops to Iraq.
“There is no case to do so.”
But yesterday Ardern said that there was potential for New Zealanders, wherever they were in the globe, to be caught in the crossfire of some of the activity by Islamic State.
“But we all have a responsibility to contribute to countering terrorism and countering any forces which act to destabilise the international order.
“My view is we always needed to take a critical eye, and that our position on any of these deployments always needed to come from a point of New Zealand’s values and our independent foreign policy.
“My view is that here we’ve struck a balance of making sure we’re fulfilling our international obligations and commitments whilst also taking the opportunity to review, in the future, what our contribution looks like, and doing it independently.”
Ardern said our defence partners appreciated being advised of the decision.
“I personally communicated the decision to (Australian) Prime Minister Morrison.
“That was because, of course, in Australia, it is a partnership, that capacity-building programme in Iraq, so it was important that I communicate that directly.”
Asked in Australia had made any submissions to he on keeping the troops there, she said: “No. No. Certainly not directly to me. With that arrangement, it’s simply important that we communicate our decisions to one another, given it is a joint deployment.”
But added to the decision to purchase the P8 maritime patrol aircraft the Iraq decision is another example of how much the Government keeps in step with Australia on defence matters.