24 Mar 2016

Iraq training mission 'having impact'

7:04 pm on 24 March 2016

A government review of New Zealand's training mission in Iraq concludes the deployment is having a "tangible and positive impact on the ability of the Iraqi Army units to take the fight to ISIL/Daesh".

It said the joint Australia-New Zealand training mission had trained more than 4000 Iraqi army personnel and conducted three junior leadership courses.

The review document, however, has been heavily redacted.

It revealed US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter asked New Zealand, along with several other coalition partners, for more help with counter-terrorism efforts in Iraq after the Paris attacks in November 2015.

However details of the request, and New Zealand's response to it, have been blacked out.

Another paragraph following the statement, "there are however still challenges to overcome, which we are seeking to mitigate through ongoing engagement with the coalition", has also been censored.

The review said the threat to New Zealanders deployed to Iraq remained "high".

"Potential threats to New Zealand and other international personnel in Iraq include insider attacks, direct attacks on coalition bases and indirect fire".

To avoid the risk of "cultural miscalculation", the review said cultural awareness was included in pre-deployment training.

The mission so far is under budget by $8 million, at $56m, down from the initial forecast of $65m.

This was mainly due to the cost of keeping each soldier in Iraq now being $US160, compared with the original estimate of $US300.

Green Party foreign affairs spokesman Kennedy Graham said the review was so heavily redacted, there was no way to know if New Zealand personnel were safe, or if the mission was a success, as claimed by the government.

"Every bit of the report that appears to detail the challenges or problems facing the mission or our soldiers, has been redacted", he said.

"New Zealanders, and the soldiers risking their lives in Iraq, have a right to a full assessment of how the mission is working, not just the highlights.

"At the moment the National government is simply telling us to take their word for it".