26 May 2015

PM dismisses fears about NZ troops in Iraq

5:49 pm on 26 May 2015

Prime Minister John Key has dismissed fears New Zealand troops in Iraq might face greater dangers now Islamic State (IS) forces are in control of Ramadi.

An image grab taken from a video uploaded on 18 May 2015 purportedly shows an IS flag in Ramadi.

An image grab taken from a video uploaded on 18 May 2015 purportedly shows an IS flag in Ramadi. Photo: AFP

Mr Key said nothing had changed for the troops on a training mission, based at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad and less than 130 kilometres from Ramadi.

John Key during caucas run 5/5/15

John Key (file) Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Key said he had checked with his defence and national security advisers and been told the troops at Taji were in no greater danger.

But the situation was being constantly monitored by the Defence Force and if it changed the Government could withdraw the soldiers.

"Like any deployment that we make, I mean things are reviewed.

"There's a thorough process that we go through, there are officials that meet and there's early warning systems of making sure that if the situation needs to be reviewed it will reviewed.

"But none of those have been triggered and at this point there's no liklihood they'll be triggered

Mr Key was not clear though on whether there was an emergency plan to evacuate the troops if the situation did get worse.

He said he did not know what particular transport was available at the camp but was sure if planes were needed to evacuate the troops they would get there.

Labour Party foreign affairs spokesperson David Shearer said Mr Key should have a plan.

"With Isis [Islamic State] fighters literally less than an hour's drive away from this camp and well within range of rocket and artillery fire they need to have some form of contingency plan to pull these people out if we need to."

But Mr Key said nothing had changed and he still intended to visit the troops sometime this year. If he had had a trip planned for next week he would still go despite Islamic State taking Ramadi.

Mr Key has also dismissed comments by the US defence secretary Ashton Carter that Iraqi forces lack the will to fight IS.

He said that view was not stopping the Americans having a huge commitment to the campaign against the jihadist group.

The Green Party says the Government should withdraw troops from Iraq, given Iraqi forces seemed unwilling to fight Islamic State.

"The premise of New Zealand's military commitment is training the Iraqi army," said Greens' global affairs spokesperson Kennedy Graham.

"It is clear the Iraqi army is not equipped or prepared to fight the Islamic State so why are we there?"

New Zealand First said the training of Iraqi troops was an impossible task following reports they lack the will to fight Islamic State.

The party's defence spokesperson Ron Mark said the Iraqi military unit was cowardly and not credible.

Mr Mark said the 16 New Zealand trainers were also not going to be able to do what $US25 billion and thousands of Americans had so far failed to do.

Dr Graham said the Prime Minister should immediately pull out the troops from the "quagmire" and New Zealand should focus on providing humanitarian aid.

Defeat 'problematic'

Meanwhile, a New Zealand academic who initially supported the deployment of New Zealand troops to Iraq has expressed concern over what he says is the United States' lack of will in the fight against Islamic State.

International Relations and Security researcher at Waikato University Ron Smith told Morning Report that defeating IS looks problematic, largely due to how the US is handling the campaign against the jihadist group. However he did not think the mission was hopeless.

"If we knew then what we know now we might have had reservations about joining it in the first place. Which is not the same as, having agreed to do this unliterally bailing out."

An Iraqi government soldier patrolling in the Jurf al-Sakher area, some 50km south of Baghdad.

An Iraqi government soldier patrolling in the Jurf al-Sakher area, some 50km south of Baghdad. Photo: AFP

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