11 Feb 2016

Conditions for Iraqi troops up to them, committee told

6:40 pm on 11 February 2016

Iraqi troops are engaged in the training being provided by New Zealand and Australia despite their poor living conditions, the Defence Force says.

Troops returning from Iraq are welcomed by Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee at Ohakea Air Base on 16 November 2015.

Troops returning from Iraq are welcomed by Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee at Ohakea Air Base late last year. Photo: Pool / Warwick Smith / Fairfax NZ

A report from the US Defence Department last year revealed the Iraqi troops were living without power or running water. The report said the conditions were having an impact on morale.

But Vice-Chief of Defence Air Vice-Marshal Kevin Short today told a parliamentary select committee the training was still effective.

The conditions were the result of limited funding, partly due to corruption within the Iraqi defence forces, and the conditions of the Iraqi troops were a matter for them, he said.

"There's a point where you do leave it to that nation and what they can do and want to do."

The Defence Force was working with the Iraqi Army on the ground to improve their systems, Air Vice-Marshal Short said.

"We're comfortable enough that the training and changes we're making are significant."

New Zealand troops in Taji, in northern Iraq, did have electricity and running water, although there was some hardship for them living in 40°C temperatures and having to be in full kit and carry weapons.

Also in the select committee today, Labour Party defence spokesman Phil Goff questioned why Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee had recorded a satisfaction rate at just 50 percent with the advice he received.

The 2015 defence annual report shows the minister's satisfaction with the quality of policy advice from the Defence Force and Ministry as well below the target.

But Mr Goff said he had every confidence in the Defence Force.

"[Mr Brownlee] didn't want the portfolio, he hasn't engaged with them, he hasn't done his homework, doesn't identify with them. That makes him, I think, a poor choice for the portfolio."

Air Vice-Marshal Short said the rating was given not long after Mr Brownlee took over the defence portfolio, and the Defence Force had since changed the way it communicated with Mr Brownlee.

Prime Minister John Key later said the welfare of the Iraqi soldiers was a matter for their government, and they did not raise it with him when he visited Taji last year.

However, the government had spoken to Iraq about the making sure the money and supplies provided reached their intended destination.

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