John Key’s Ministerial Statement on Iraq

The Prime Minister’s Ministerial statement on the deployment of troops to Iraq.

Draft transcript:

Ministerial Statements

Iraq— Deployment of Troops

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I wish to make a ministerial statement under Standing Order 356 in relation to the deployment of troops to Iraq.

Today I am announcing to the House the Government’s decision about our contribution to the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Last November I gave a national security speech that outlined the threat posed to New Zealand by ISIL. This brutal group and its distressing methods deserve the strongest condemnation.

ISIL’s ability to motivate Islamic radicals makes it a threat not only to stability in the Middle East but regionally and locally too. It is well funded and highly skilled at using the internet to recruit. Disturbingly, if anything, ISIL’s brutality has worsened since I gave that speech late last year.

In recent weeks we have witnessed a mass beheading and the horrific plight of a Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage, and we have seen stories of Western hostages who have been kidnapped and killed in barbaric ways. ISIL’s outrageous actions have united an international coalition of 62 countries against this group.

New Zealand is already considered part of the coalition because we have made humanitarian contributions, with $14.5 million in aid provided to the region so far.

The Government has carefully considered its options to expand our contribution to the international coalition. As I outlined in November, our approach is one that addresses humanitarian, diplomatic, intelligence, and capacity-building issues.

New Zealand is a country that stands up for its values. We stand up for what is right. We have an obligation to support stability and the rule of law internationally. We do not shy away from taking our share of the burden when the international rules-based system is threatened, as it is today. We have carved out our independent foreign policy over decades and we take pride in it. We do what is in New Zealand’s best interests.

It is in that context that I am announcing that the Government has decided to take further steps to help the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Iraq Government has request support from the international community and has been clear with us that security is its top priority.

We have been clear that we cannot and should not fight Iraq’s battles for it, and, actually, Iraq does not want us to do that. Our military can, however, play a part in building the capability and capacity of the Iraqi forces so that they can fight ISIL themselves.

I have been open with New Zealanders that we have been considering an option to train Iraqi special forces or security forces in Iraq alongside our long-standing partner Australia. Such an operation would be behind the wire and limited to training Iraqi security forces in order to counter ISIL and legitimately protect innocent people.

The Government has decided to deploy a non-combat training mission to Iraq to contribute to the international fight against ISIL. This is likely to be a joint training mission with Australia, although it will not be badged as an Anzac force. Their task will be to train Iraqi security force units so they are able to commence combat operations and to eventually be able to carry out the work of our trainers, creating an independent, self-sustaining military capability for the Government of Iraq to call on.

The mission will involve the deployment of personnel to the Taji military complex, north of Baghdad. This is likely to take place in May. The deployment will be reviewed after 9 months and will be for a maximum 2-year period. The total number of personnel deploying is up to 106 in Taji, and there will be others such as staff officers deploying in coalition headquarters and support facilities in the region. The total all together will be up to 143 personnel.

As well as these people, further personnel and air force assets will occasionally need to be deployed to the region to support the mission—for example, in support of personnel rotations and resupply.

A training mission like this is not without danger. It is not a decision we have taken lightly. I have required assurances that our men and women will be as safe as they practically can be in Taji. Our force protection needs have been assessed by the New Zealand Defence Force and determined as being able to be met by the well-trained soldiers of our regular army. We will be sending our own force protection to support the training activities.

I want to briefly address the issue of special forces. As I said last November, I have ruled out sending the SAS or any troops into combat roles in Iraq. The Chief of Defence Force has advised me that special forces are not part of this deployment. However, I want to be clear that special forces could be deployed for short periods to provide advice on issues like force protection or to help with high-profile visits, as there may be those from time to time.

Our deployment in Taji will include logistics and medical support as well as headquarters staff. It is our intention that Iraq security forces be able to assume responsibility for delivering their own training programmes in future.

The New Zealand Government will retain ultimate decision-making authority over the nature and scope of the activities of the New Zealand Defence Force personnel within the mission, and those personnel will deploy with appropriate legal protections. Exactly what form those legal protections take will be worked through in coming weeks and with our Iraqi counterparts.

We will secure the best protections we realistically can for our personnel. Our military has a proven track record of carrying out this type of training work in Afghanistan.

This is a contribution that is in line with our values and our skills. But this not all that we will do to help.

We recognise the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is not a short-term threat, and there is a lot of work to be done in the long term. Defeating ISIL will mean winning the hearts and minds of those vulnerable to its destructive message. That will take time. As I said last year, we have already contributed to the humanitarian cause, and we are currently examining options to provide more help.

We are also stepping up our diplomatic efforts to counter ISIL and support stability in Iraq. As part of this, we are looking at options to base a diplomatic representative in Baghdad to serve as a conduit between the Iraq Government and our military deployment, as well as assessing how we can support better governance in Iraq.

We will also expand our diplomatic engagement on international counter-terrorism by appointing a new ambassador for counter-terrorism. Underpinning all this, we will work as a member of the United Nations Security Council to advocate for effective action on ISIL.

Last November, I told New Zealanders ISIL had been successful in recruiting New Zealanders to the cause. Our Government agencies have a watch-list of between 35 and 40 people of concern in the foreign fighter context, and that remains the case.

Unfortunately, an additional group requiring further investigation is growing in number. We have strengthened the ability of our intelligence agencies to deal with this, and they are taking steps to add to their resources. We cannot be complacent, as events in Sydney, Paris, and Ottawa have underscored.

To those who argue that we should not take action because it raises the threat I say this: the risk associated with ISIL becoming stronger and more widespread far outweighs that. I know there is already risk. New Zealanders do too because they know we are a nation of prolific travellers who have been caught up in terrorist activity around the world many times before.

The Government has carefully considered our contribution to the international campaign against ISIL. We are prepared to step up to help. New Zealand does not take its commitment to Iraq lightly.

In return, we expect that the Iraqi Government will make good on its commitment to an inclusive Government that treats all Iraqi citizens with respect. Sending our forces to Iraq is not an easy decision, but without doubt it is the right decision. They go with our best wishes.

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