12 Feb 2015

Iraq request likely tomorrow

8:21 am on 12 February 2015

A formal request from the Iraqi government for New Zealand's help in the fight against Islamic State is likely to be delivered tomorrow, when Iraq's Foreign Minister pays a brief visit to the country.

The Government says it is still considering whether to send troops to train the Iraqi army as part of the US- lead coalition against the Islamic State jihadists.

Dr Ibrahim al-Ja'afari

Iraqi Foreign Minister Dr Ibrahim al-Ja'afari. Photo: AFP

However, opposition parties say the Government has already made up its mind and is just going through the motions, as evidenced by the timely visit of Dr Ibrahim al-Ja'afari.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the reason for Dr al-Ja'afari's visit was obviously to discuss coalition efforts to combat Islamic State and what New Zealand might do to help.

He said if New Zealand was to commit training troops it would want a direct invitation.

"We'd want to be sure that we were very welcome and that what we could do would be of some significant benefit, if we were going to make an offer of trainers of the sort that's being contemplated at the moment," said Mr McCully.

Mr McCully said the visit was an opportunity to gain the Iraqi government's perspective on how New Zealand could best assist because up until now there had been very little direct communication.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully

Foreign Minister Murray McCully Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"We haven't heard directly from the Iraqi government themselves, government to government, and I think that's a very important part of this process."

Labour's defence spokesperson and a former Foreign Minister Phil Goff said it was all part of softening up the public for a deployment.

"Dr al-Ja'afari isn't coming to the other side of the world to have a pleasant talk with New Zealand - he's coming here to ask the formal question which has been pre-arranged by the New Zealand government.

"And everybody knows that notwithstanding the performance that's being put on by the government, that this decision has long been made," said Mr Goff.

Mr Goff said cynicism aside this was an opportunity for Mr McCully to ask some hard questions.

"Notwithstanding all of the money, the effort, the training, of the Iraqi army, why has it performed in a much inferior way to the compared to the Kurdish peshmerga?

"Why would we put more lives, more money into training the Iraqi army when efforts by the Americans to the extent of $25 billion worth have failed to make any difference."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, a former foreign minister,said the meeting was a convenient jack-up.

"So that he can be seen to be coming here to request New Zealand intervention in the Iraq situation against ISIS (Islamic State).

It's not even subtle, and what he'll do is come here and make that request.

"Mr Key will then say that he and the Government are responding to it, even when they have already made the decision a long, long time ago," said Mr Peters.

Dr al-Ja'afari will meet the Prime Minister John Key, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and Mr McCully in Auckland tomorrow.

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