Shaw, Mitchell question Mark on extended Middle East deployment

In Parliament today Green co-leader James Shaw took Minister of Defence Ron Mark to task after the deployment of New Zealand troops in Iraq and Afghanistan was extended.

4. Hon JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Defence: Is it his intention to continue the deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq beyond 2019?

Hon RON MARK (Minister of Defence): Ultimately, those decisions are for Cabinet to make. This Government will undertake a strategic reassessment in early 2019. All options will be on the table at that point in time. Those decisions will be made around the strategic situation, our values, our independent foreign policy, and how we think that this Government might make a difference to the lives of the Iraqi people.

Hon James Shaw: Does he agree that continued military involvement of outside forces has actually further destabilised the region and made it easier for terror groups to recruit and has led to an increase in violence rather than a decrease?

Hon RON MARK: No, we don’t. We’re confident that the independent, principles-based decision that Cabinet made yesterday was the right thing to do. I think I would add that for Iraq to become a prosperous nation once again, for its people to enjoy a quality of life that we enjoy, and for them to enjoy the well-being and the support of a good Government such as we enjoy, they need security. Security is paramount to the well-being of the people of Iraq, and I think that is the greatest contribution we’re able to make at this time. But, again, come next year, this Government will reassess the situation.

Hon James Shaw: Does he agree that if New Zealand were to play a role beyond 2019, then the New Zealand public would rather it be focused on building schools and roads and hospitals rather than a seemingly never-ending military engagement?

Hon RON MARK: Mr Speaker, we understand that that is the view of some people, and we would share those views that ultimately that is where we would like Iraq to be. Right now the most important thing is to guarantee security. Right now where we can make a strong contribution, along with our Australian partners, is to improve the quality of the security forces there and thereby lend greater security. For NGOs to be able to deliver to those people, they need security. We’ve seen examples in Sudan where the wonderful efforts of NGOs have been interdicted by the lack of security. I would also point out that in Afghanistan alone this Government over the years since 2001 has put in over $100 million in aid. There’s another $2 million to the UN Development Programme and there is about $3.5 million going into the UN Development Programme around technical assistance for de-mining support.

Hon James Shaw: Well, would he agree that the money that we spend on these military deployments would be better spent on humanitarian aid and reconstruction?

Hon RON MARK: I guess a quick add-up of the cost of all of the deployments that the Government has just announced comes to a grand total of about $31.4 million, bearing in mind that a couple of those deployments are for two years, not one year. Ultimately, the Government will in time—and I think next year—look at how we can make a contribution. It may well be that there may not be a military contribution; the focus may be on humanitarian assistance. Of course we’d like to build hospitals. Of course we’d like to help build schools. Of course we’d like to help re-establish the infrastructure. Iraq, in particular, is looking at a $100 billion bill for reconstruction, but $31.4 million is not going to build a new school, it’s not going to build a new hospital, and it’s not going to rebuild the infrastructure. It can make a substantive difference to the NGOs who are delivering that sort of support and thereby enhancing security.


National’s defence spokesperson Mark Mitchell also questioned Ron Mark.

Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney): Has he seen the quote “Does he not realise that he sent our brave New Zealand soldiers to Iraq on a fool’s errand, and that training the Iraqi Army to stand and fight is literally Mission: Impossible?”, and does he agree with it?

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Can the member read the question, please? Read it again.

8. Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Defence: Has he seen the quote “Does he not realise that he sent our brave New Zealand soldiers to Iraq on a fool’s errand, and the training the Iraqi Army to stand and fight is literally Mission: Impossible?”; if so, does he agree with it?

Hon RON MARK (Minister of Defence): Yes, I recognise that quote.

SPEAKER: No. The member will finish answering the question.

Hon RON MARK: Yes, I recognise that quote, and on the information I had at the time, I still stand by that statement.

Hon Mark Mitchell: How does the Minister reconcile his statement on Morning Report today that there was never any attempt by the previous Government to work across parties, when New Zealand First declined a briefing, an invitation, to visit troops in Iraq with Gerry Brownlee, Andrew Little, and myself in 2016?

Hon RON MARK: I have never received an invitation from Mr Brownlee or from that member on any visit, and, in fact, that member can enlighten people about the conversation that he and I had on the telephone where that member apologised for not inviting me.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister as to whether it’s a fact that, contrary to being asked, with respect to consultation, the troops were already there before the invitation was sent to the New Zealand First Party in the first place?

SPEAKER: Order! That is not something the current Minister has responsibility for.

Hon Mark Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There appears to be some confusion. The Minister stood up and said that he’d never personally received an invitation—and I was very clear about the fact that the invitation went to New Zealand First—and the Deputy Prime Minister then stood up and contradicted him and said that we did receive an invitation. Which is correct?

SPEAKER: You’re not serious? Stand up and ask a supplementary, if the member wants to.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Why didn’t the Minister consult with or brief either the New Zealand National Party or the ACT Party before a decision was made to deploy our New Zealand Defence Force men and women into theatres of war?

Hon RON MARK: On numerous occasions, I have taken National Party representatives with me. In fact, I took Mr Simon O’Connor into Iraq and into Afghanistan. In those conversations that we had on that trip, it became very apparent and very clear to me what the National Party’s view was on the deployment. In fact, one would have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to know that the National Party supported a continuation of that deployment, unless, of course, it’s just now changed its mind.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Has the Minister consulted with the ACT Party?

Hon RON MARK: No, I have not had consultation, but I would say this to that member also, and I would say it to Mr Seymour: the way that we have operated my office is that we make the door wide open. In fact, the member has been into my office for a briefing.

Hon RON MARK: We will always keep the door open, and I am fully ready, at any time, Mr Seymour, to give a full background briefing. Members of the National Party sat in on the bilateral conversations with the Prime Minister of Iraq. They sat in on the bilaterals with the Minister of Defence of Iraq and visited Afghanistan and sat in on the bilaterals with the NATO ambassador to Afghanistan. A member of the National Party has participated at all levels of those conversations and has made it very clear to me that the National Party support it. To Mr Seymour: the door’s open. I apologise for not getting round to you. I would have done that after the announcement.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Mr Speaker, can I just seek some guidance from you, because—

SPEAKER: No, you can’t. The member can ask a supplementary question or, if he has a real point of order, he can do it, but if he trifles with me again, he’ll be losing his supplementary.

Hon Mark Mitchell: It is a point of order, because—

SPEAKER: Well, the way the member does it is stand up and say, “Point of Order!”

Hon Mark Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The point of order is simply this: the Minister is talking about taking other members away on trips. That’s not the question. The question was around consultation with Opposition parties before decisions are made on deploying New Zealand Defence Force men and women.

SPEAKER: Between the last two supplementaries, that has been very clearly answered.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Why hasn’t he applied his own high standards to himself in terms of a cross-party consultation and consensus in an MMP environment?

Hon RON MARK: Right at the outset of being sworn in as Minister, I think I made it very, very clear that I sought, for the benefit of the men and women in uniform, to gain as wide a cross-party consensus on defence matters as we possibly can. It is for that reason that we have gone out of our way to invite National Party representatives to attend briefings. It’s for that reason that I have never refused a request from the Hon Paula Bennett. I think there are about two or three National Party members who’ve sought permission to go on to military bases and talk with Defence Force personnel, unlike what happened to me when I was specifically blocked by the National Government at the time.

Iraq, Afghanistan ‘peacekeeping’ and the realities of international ‘leadership’

Jacinda Ardern has been promoted (or has promoted herself) as one of a radical new breed of young progressive wanting to lead the world in a new direction. But the realities for a small distant nation is that the leader largely has to follow along with allies, even in war situations.

So despite in Opposition promising to pull the troops out the Government has just announced an extension of New Zealand’s deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Greens remain opposed.

Official announcement: New Zealand to extend NZDF deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and 3 peacekeeping missions

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, and Defence Minister Ron Mark have announced an extension of the New Zealand Defence Force military training deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a renewal of three peacekeeping missions in the Middle East and Africa.

“The decision to deploy defence force personnel overseas is one of the hardest for any government to take, especially when these deployments are to challenging and dangerous environments,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“The Government has weighed a number of factors, including carefully considering the risks to our servicemen and women based on advice from the New Zealand Defence Force. The decisions themselves were taken following careful Cabinet deliberations.”

The Iraq deployment will be extended until June 2019, and the Afghanistan deployment will be extended until September 2019.  This allows New Zealand to fulfil its current commitment to both missions.

In the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan the Government will be using the coming year to consider all options for New Zealand’s future contributions.

The three peacekeeping missions are to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) in the Golan Heights and Lebanon and the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) mission in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt.

“The Government has decided to continue with our current commitments to three peacekeeping missions in the Middle East and Africa, where we have an established presence and proven track record,” Winston Peters said.

A quite length explanation of all the deployments and their histories then followed.

This would normally be seen as a pragmatic decision with New Zealand being seen to contributing to international peacekeeping obligations, which it is. But this is a reversal of Labour’s position. National found themselves in a similar position.

Labour press release (June 2016): Iraq mission extension case not made

The Prime Minister has not made the case for extending the Iraq deployment another 18 months nor the expansion of their mission, says Opposition Leader Andrew Little.

“Labour originally opposed the deployment because the Iraqi Army’s track record was poor, even after years of training by the American and other armies. Having visited Camp Taji, my view on this has not changed.

“It was always obvious that the Iraq deployment would not be complete within the two years originally set for the mission, and the Prime Minister has not been open with the public about the demands being made on our troops by Coalition allies.

“Today in his post cabinet briefing Key could not even confirm the troops would be home in 18 months. He has not been straight with New Zealanders, nor has he made the case for mission creep. He owes it New Zealanders to explain why we’re committing our forces to an ongoing volatile theatre of war.

The Government has announced an extension to the two-year deployment, keeping up to 143 personnel in Iraq for an extra 18 months.

John Key admits it’s a change from the initial promise, but said there’s still work to do. He said the other options are to “do nothing”, or do “something that in hindsight may be more dangerous”.

Labour leader Andrew Little…

“We can be a good global citizen by looking after the civilians who are displaced. What we don’t want to be is caught up in a conflict that goes way out of control.”

“The fact that he’s now completely indefinite about how long we might be there – we could be there for a long, long time. The real threat then is of civil war and who knows where that will go.”

Green co-leader James Shaw…

…said we shouldn’t have our military in Iraq at all

“This is mission creep, and it’s extremely dangerous. He’s broken a promise about how long we were going to be there in the first place, it could easily get extended again, both in terms of the length of time we’re over there and also in terms of the scope of the mission.’

“Our good global citizenship role would be much better deployed as part of the humanitarian effort, rather than part of the military effort. We’ve got a lot more skill in humanitarian aid.”

SBS News/Reuters (November 2017 just after Ardern became Prime Minister): NZ could pull out of Iraq deployment

Australia may lose New Zealand as a partner training Iraqi security forces to fight Islamic State militants next year.

Ms Ardern said her government will review NZ’s commitment of just under 150 military personnel in November next year.

“We will look again at the circumstances when that mandate comes up again,” she told reporters at Sydney airport before her departure.

“It’s a complex conflict and things could change dramatically between now and then.”

Former NZ Labour leader Andrew Little, who Ms Ardern replaced, has previously cast doubt on the benefits the country’s role in Iraq and had vowed to bring the troops home.

Incline (February 2018): Groundhog Day for New Zealand’s Iraq Deployment?

National’s decision might have been broadly predictable, but the same cannot be said for Jacinda Ardern’s Labour-led coalition. What the Prime Minister and her Cabinet colleagues choose to do on Iraq presents a series of challenges in the weighing of international and domestic expectations.

For New Zealand First, which holds both the Defence and Foreign Affairs portfolios, the shift in position is a slightly easier one. Ron Mark prides himself on his commitment to a Defence Force that is ready to undertake missions in difficult conflict zones. At a time when his portfolio is not among the government’s top spending priorities, he needs a win for his view of the Defence Force. That Mr. Mark has been in Iraq, and has reported that the New Zealanders are doing “vital tasks” in the national interest, says all we need to know about his position on the issue.

His New Zealand First boss also seems a very likely supporter of extension. As Foreign Minister, Peters will be keenly aware of Australia’s interest in seeing New Zealand commit to a further six months and more.

We can be certain that if Jacinda Ardern announces that New Zealand will extend its mission she will not use the “price of the club” argument which landed John Key in political hot water. Explaining New Zealand’s involvement as a consequence of its five eyes connections would be exactly the message that would fire up opposition from the Greens and the Labour left.

…the Iraq decision is a more difficult test. Unlike the TPP, where significant parts of New Zealand’s business community have been strong supporters, there is no comparable domestic constituency for the Iraq deployment.

This raises an obvious challenge for the government if it does choose to extend. How does it show this choice is consistent with an independent foreign policy? Labour may think it owns that concept by virtue of its nuclear free push in the 1980s. Will Ardern be tempted to repeat the Key-English argument that New Zealand has made its own (i.e. “independent”) choice to work with traditional partners in Iraq? That will hardly convince many of the people who brought her to office.

Newshub (yesterday): Jacinda Ardern’s U-turn on pulling troops out of Iraq

The Labour-led Government is extending New Zealand’s deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan despite promising in Opposition to pull troops out.

The Prime Minister is refusing to comment on whether New Zealand’s elite soldiers, the SAS, will or have joined them.

This is another example of Labour leaning towards NZ First preferences, with Greens opposed. The Green Party doesen’t seem to have put out an official statement, but…

In the context of the ‘War of Terror’ & ‘peace in the Mid East’, one thing we know is more foreign military presence is not working, has never worked, & has made things far worse. Bring on the sustainable, non-military led humanitarian, conservation, restoration focus.

Stop spending Mills$ joining failed military campaigns that only help weapons manufacturing nations/corporates. Instead invest in helping victims access medicine, rebuild schools, roads…And flex our diplomatic muscle to tell everyone we won’t stand for them profiting from war.

She has a point – Iraq and Aghanistan seem to be bottomless pits and graveyards when it comes to military involvement, and perhaps futile: Seventeen years after September 11, al-Qaeda may be stronger than ever

In the days after September 11, 2001, the United States set out to destroy al-Qaeda. US President George W Bush vowed to “starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest.”

Seventeen years later, al-Qaeda may be stronger than ever. Far from vanquishing the extremist group and its associated “franchises,” critics say, US policies in the Middle East appear to have encouraged its spread.

New Zealand is now extending support of US policie.

What US officials didn’t grasp, said Rita Katz, director of the Site Intelligence Group, in a recent phone interview, is that al-Qaeda is more than a group of individuals. “It’s an idea, and an idea cannot be destroyed using sophisticated weapons and killing leaders and bombing training camps,” she said.

The group has amassed the largest fighting force in its existence.

It is a dilemma. Pacifism would also not have contained Al Qaeda nor ISIS. But a seventeen year military approach hasn’t solved Middle East problems either.

Ardern, Peters and their Government are doing their bit, but it’s very debatable whether that is going to help anything other than their standing in the US and it’s military industrial complex.

Claims of defeat of ISIS in Iraq, Syria

Iraq claims to have driven ISIS out of the country, and Russian claims to have defeated ISIS in Syria.

Reuters: Islamic State completely ‘evicted’ from Iraq, Iraqi PM says

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Saturday that Iraqi forces had driven the last remnants of Islamic State from the country, three years after the militant group captured about a third of Iraq’s territory.

The Iraqi forces recaptured the last areas still under IS control along the border with Syria, state television quoted Abadi as telling an Arab media conference in Baghdad.

Several squadrons of Iraqi helicopters flew over Baghdad carrying Iraqi flags at noon, in an apparent rehearsal for a victory parade that Iraq is planning to hold in the coming days.

“Commander-in-Chief @HaiderAlAbadi announces that Iraq’s armed forces have secured the western desert & the entire Iraq Syria border, says this marks the end of the war against Daesh terrorists who have been completely defeated and evicted from Iraq,” the federal government’s official account tweeted.

In a separate tweet later, Abadi said: “Our heroic armed forces have now secured the entire length of the Iraq-Syria border. We defeated Daesh through our unity and sacrifice for the nation. Long live Iraq and its people.”

New Zealand has helped with the training of Iraqi military in their fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh: Announcement of New Zealand Defence Force personnel being deployed in a non-combat training mission to Iraq

On 24 February 2015, the government announced that the New Zealand Defence Force will deploy to Iraq in a non-combat training mission to build the capacity of the Iraqi security forces to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Up to 143 New Zealand Defence Force personnel were approved by Cabinet to deploy on a training mission, with the main body of the deployment expected to deploy in May 2015. The training of Iraqi security forces at Taji will cover a broad range of individual and organisational military skills so that Iraqi security forces can eventually assume responsibility for delivering their own training programmes.

Extension of the Iraq Deployment

On 20 June 2016, the Government decided to extend New Zealand’s contribution to the Building Partner Capacity mission to 30 November 2018.

The Minister of Defence’s press release regarding the extension.

Rudaw: Russia declares Syria ‘completely liberated’ from ISIS

Russia’s defence minister has informed President Vladimir Putin of the defeat of ISIS in Syria and the “complete” liberation of that country.

“All ISIS formations in Syria have been defeated. Syria has been liberated from terrorists,” General of the Army Valery Gerasimov stated Wednesday evening, adding that Minister Sergei Shoigu informed Putin of this “about an hour ago.”

Announcing the liberation of four villages in Deir ez-Zor province, “there are no territories controlled by ISIS in Syria today,” Gerasimov said.

The military operations were overseen by Russian military advisers “operating in every grouping of the government troops,” according to a statement from Russia’s Ministry of Defence.

“Units of Kurdish militia and tribes from the East Euphrates operating under the leadership of the joint staff and Russian military advisers have made a large contribution to the liberation of territories located to the east from the Euphrates,” Gerasimov added.

On Sunday, in a joint press conference with Russian military officials, the Kurdish armed force YPG announced the defeat of ISIS in the rural areas of Deir ez-Zor province, east of the Euphrates River.

These are major victories and will have significantly reduced the power and influence of ISIS, but I doubt it will be the end of ISIS related terrorism, which may now be be one of it’s only ways of trying to continue their aims.

The Nation: Iraq/Daesh, Maori seats, data

Today on The Nation:

As the battle for Mosul heats up talks to Gerry Brownlee about NZ’s role in Iraq.

Brownlee has just attended a meeting in France between the coalition countries trying to sort out Iraq.

Brownlee says a reconstruction team in Iraq is not on the table… but will see what requests come through.

Brownlee says NZ troops are “absolutely not” involved in combat in Iraq.

Brownlee confirms NZ troops have travelled outside of Taji to another camp near Baghdad.

What’s the end goal for our role in Iraq? Brownlee says it’s to ensure a stable civilian Govt in Iraq.

Live tweeting :

Fighting Daesh on the ground in Mosul is the easy part. We will win this battle. Fighting the ideology is the hard par.

NZ cannot be naïve about Daesh. Its ability to ideologically inspire people is scary. Thus, beating it in Iraq not sufficient.

How the West deals with the Kurds, who has suffered most with Daesh, will be interesting. I fear Turkey’s interests win out…

Turkish P Erdogan has been using rhetoric which evokes the Ottoman Empire. Fear is he has designs on Mosul and curtailing Kurds.

For me the broader question is: is it pertinent to NZ’s foreign policy to be part of America’s international security community?

If answer is yes then participating in American-led initiatives like Iraq is probably a price we have to pay.

Answering no is only palatable if you think NZ has zero security risks in an increasingly geopolitically sensitive Asia-Pacific.

I begrudgingly accept our Iraq action is a necessary activity. However, transparency is critical. Brownlee not convincing me.

Iraq’s problems are deeper than Daesh. Daesh is a symptom, not a cause.

Maiki Sherman, Chris Wikaira and Ella Henry on next year’s fight for the Maori seats… how crucial will they be for forming a Govt?

Ella Henry says it’s going to be a social media-driven campaign.

Sherman says Nanaia Mahuta has come out fighting after the King’s speech endorsing the Maori Party earlier this year (and also points out the questions will be asked what Mahuta has done for Maori after 20 years in Parliament).

Will Mana and the Maori Party do a deal? Sherman says she doesn’t think they’ll go down that path.

Te Tai Tonga and Te Tai Hauauru are the electorates to watch says Sherman.

Sherman on candidates in Māori seats: the people want to see that you’ve been peeling spuds or washing dishes at the marae.

Data Futures chair (and former Auckland City Missioner) Diane Robertson on what the Govt’s doing with your data… and how’s she’s trying to boost the public’s trust.

The Govt is collecting and sharing more data about us – but how do we make sure it’s being used the right way?

 

 

Q&A: Little, UK/Iraq and children

On Q & A this morning:

100 years of Labour-what is it offering voters today? joins at 9am this morning

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Also we cross live to Br Major General Julian Thompson on this week’s damning report into the

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Also on the show interviews new Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft

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Andrew Little:

Little’s phrase of the day is “more affordable houses”. Building state houses and giving them to select people at subsidised rents is affordable for who?

Little says they can make houses affordable. Confident the can make houses at a much more affordable level, but does not favour bringing down house prices.

He says the Government is “terrified” of doing anything that will help first home buyers. Not consistent with leaving current prices as they are.

Talking about selling state houses to tenants and then building more. That could be a good idea but it depends on whether it is subsidised or not, people who qualify for state houses are unlikely to be able to buy unless their circumstances change significantly.

Little says a trade deal with the EU is important despite his opposition to the TPPA, but says that we can’t compromise our sovereignty.  He may find that negotiating trade deals without compromise will be a bit of a challenge.

Little is still speaking with uncertainty and hesitation.

He doesn’t have any conspiracies about media and conspiracies and bias. He says that the way people are getting news is changing.

Dann refers to Brian Edwards column Little sidesteps that and talks about addressing the issues. That’s something he keeps repeating.

“I’m not a show pony, I’m a straight shooter”.

Coincidentally from @josiepagani

Kinnock ‘People of deep convictions can afford to compromise. People of shallow convictions are terrified of it.

Br Major General Julian Thompson:

Supports exiting the EU, saying that NATO is what is important because the US is a part of it – he says that the US contributes 73% of the cost of NATO.

Tony Blair was wrong, and is wrong

Tony Blair was wrong to take the United Kingdom to war, The decision was flawed,  following a flawed political process using flawed ‘intelligence’ and was contrary to United Nations protocols and ignored United Nations advice on the lack of ‘weapons of mass destruction’.

The just released Chilcot report details all the flaws – see Chilcot summary – unanimous view.

In his reaction Tony Blair expresses regrets for some outcomes but defends his decision.

It’s a huge responsibility for the leaders of major countries in particular to take their country to war.

And the outcome has been awful.

For Iraq. Things were already awful in Iraq under Saddam Hussein but they don’t appear to be any better. I saw a quote from an Iraqi yesterday who said that one despot has been replaced by a hundred despots.

Over a decade later and after hundreds of thousands of deaths the country is still a mess. ISIS has inflicted the worst of radical Islam on the people of Iraq.

Today’s ODT editorial: Lasting damage from conflict

The Iraq war was an intervention that went badly wrong with consequences still being felt to this day.

The report says former prime minister Tony Blair overstated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, sent ill-prepared troops into battle and had wholly inadequate plans for the aftermath.

Sir John says the 2003 invasion was not the last resort action presented to MPs and the public.

There was no imminent threat from Saddam – the intelligence case was not justified.

And this has spread to Syria, which has been self destructing in a complex factional civil war, with ISIS a prominent factor.

And it has not worked out well for the world, with a number of terrorist attacks in a number of countries, widespread fear of attacks, and resulting from this has been a growing fear of Muslims in general and in particular Muslim immigration.

And now, as the ODT puts it:

For his part, Mr Blair remains defiant on the central decision to go to war.

The decision to commit troops was the most agonising and momentous decision in his decade as prime minister and something he will carry with him for the rest of the days.

Mr Blair admits the intelligence assessments made at the time of going to war turned out to be wrong, the aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted and bloody than ever imagined and a nation whose people the UK and the United States wanted to set free from Saddam became instead victims of sectarian terrorism.

“For all of this, I express more sorry, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe,” Mr Blair said.

I think that Blair is wrong to defend what he did. As does the ODT.

The war overshadows the legacy of Mr Blair, who swept into power as a new-style Labour leader, one not reliant on union support for his time in Parliament.

His arrogance as leader, and his willingness to support Mr Bush through some brutal conflicts, will provide lasting damage to his reputation.

I guess it’s hard to bring oneself to say “I stuffed up, I helped stuff up a country and a region, and this has been stuffing things up around the world ever since”.

But that is Blair’s legacy, alongside George W Bush and Dick Cheney (supported by Australia).

At least New Zealand stayed out of it, but that just prevented us from bearing a part of the blame, it didn’t do anything to prevent the mass destruction over the past 13 years.

Little on extended deployment

It has been reported that Andrew Little said he would ‘bring the troops home’ from Iraq but when questioned about this on Breakfast just now he avoided answering whether if he was Prime Minister he would bring them home as there was too much uncertainty.

NZ Herald: Andrew Little: We’ll bring New Zealand troops home

Labour leader Andrew Little says he will withdraw New Zealand troops from Iraq if his party is elected to power next year.

Mr Little said he expected the security situation in the Middle East to change significantly by the general election, by which time the Islamic State may have been pushed back further or defeated.

But if the conflict remained unchanged in Iraq and Syria, he confirmed he would withdraw New Zealand’s deployment of 143 trainers from Taji Military Base near Baghdad.

“If it’s the same as it is now I cannot see a case for continuing,” he told the Herald.

So despite the headline that is just a maybe will, maybe won’t response.

Mr Little, who has expressed concerns about the Iraqi Army’s capability, said he would support New Zealand staying in Iraq in a peacekeeping capacity in the event that Isis was defeated.

“If that happens, then there will almost certainly be the need for a peacekeeping operation under a United Nations mandate, which is something we are experienced at and good at.”

The Iraqi Government must think we are good enough at helping to train their troops too.

Claire Trevett at NZ Herald: Key walks line between world and NZ

For those who travelled to Taji with the Prime Minister last year, his decision to extend the deployment of 120 troops to train Iraqi forces had a sense of inevitability about it.

The only surprise was that he had waited so long. It was blatantly obvious in Taji the soldiers believed the work they were doing was valuable and would take longer than the two years they were given.

In the end what changed his mind was the prospect of choosing between doing nothing at all or something far more dangerous. The first was not an option for reasons of international relations.After all, it was the Fallujah battle Labour leader Andrew Little set as his litmus test for the success of the training mission. Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee’s attempts to get Mr Little on board by taking him to Taji had limited success.

Mr Little remains opposed to the deployment and to extending it.

Sort of. he sounds against it but is non-committal about what he would do if making the decisions.

From :

“We are nowhere near mission complete, it’s a long term problem, why would Key say it’s only 2 yrs and we are out of here?”

“I had a NZ officer tell me a good day training is when they get the Iraqi officers to point their weapons the right way”

“If I was making the decision today I would say there is no point in propping up the Iraqi army”

But when pressed on what he would do about the deployment he avoided giving a definitive answer.

He wouldn’t say if our deployment was pointless or not.

It sounds like Little is being critical of the Government (and of Iraq) without saying he would do any different and without having an alternative policy.

Iraq deployment extended

Despite unwisely saying the deployment of New Zealand troops in Iraq would be limited to two years yesterday John Key announced an 18 month extension.

Stuff: Kiwi troop deployment to Iraq has been extended by 18 months

The Government has agreed to extend the stay of Kiwi soldiers in Iraq by another 18 months.

Prime Minister John Key announced on Monday that New Zealand’s mission to train Iraqi Security Forces in the fight against so-called Islamic State (Isis) would continue until November 2018.

The deployment had been set to finish later this year and when Key visited the camp in October last year he said he was reluctant to extend the mission beyond the two-year time frame.

Finite plans involving long running conflict zones were always likely to have to change.

The number of troops deployed would not change under the extension – up to 143 at any time are in Iraq.

The threat by Isis to New Zealand and “New Zealand’s interests remains a real one,” Key said.

The Government has also agreed to amend its mission mandate and allow small numbers of troops to leave Taji to travel for short periods to Besmaya – a secure training location about 52 kilometres southeast of Taji.

The troops would remain “behind the wire” and Key had been advised the camp in Besmaya was “as safe as Taji if not even safer”.

To ensure that safety, troops moving between Taji and Besmaya would only do so by air.

While Key said he was “extremely reluctant” for troops to go outside the wire, if there was another deployment after 2018, he didn’t rule it out.

The future of Iraq is clouded by ongoing conflict and uncertainty.

The future of the New Zealand deployment was always going to be up for review, as it should be. Whether it’s wise to remain there is a valid question.

Lines in the Middle East sands

Gezza posted this in comments:

Sykes-Picot: Lines In The Sand.

Anybody who wants a comprehensive, intelligent, intelligible understanding of the background to, and current situation in, Iraq, Syria, Palestine & Israel would be crazy not to watch this. One of the best 50 minute documentaries on that whole area that I’ve seen.

Lots of file footage, clever way the maps are done, with just a few concise, very on-point interviews with commenters & historians giving Arab, Jewish, British, French, Iranian, American & Russian perspectives – interesting in themselves.

The first half is on the early 20th century history to 1948 showing how the French & British divvyed the whole place up & ran things after the Ottoman Empire crumbled, and the second half brings you up to speed with why it’s such a shit-hole of a place at the moment.

http://video.aljazeera.com/channels/eng/videos/sykes-picot%3A-lines-in-the-sand—al-jazeera-world/4903567273001

Andrew Little in Iraq

Andrew Little has just had a visit to Iraq:

NZ Herald: Andrew Little’s top secret Iraq visit

Labour leader Andrew Little has made a top secret visit to Iraq to visit New Zealand troops based at Camp Taji and is now questioning whether the two-year term will be extended.

Mr Little has just left Iraq after Camp Taji with Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and Chief of Defence Force Tim Keating.

Labour opposed the 2015 deployment of troops to help train Iraqi soldiers fight against Islamic State (Isis), but Mr Little said he accepted the invitation from Mr Brownlee because he believed it was important to see first hand the work of the troops and the conditions in which they lived.

Yes it is important that the leader of the opposition sees important international situations that New Zealand is involved in for himself. Little could be Prime Minister by the end of next year (or sooner) and he needs to be well prepared.

And this shows that the Government works together with the Opposition when necessary, especially in international issues.

This will also help Little deal with Middle East issues responsibly while in opposition.

There is a neutral post on this at The Standard by ‘Notices and Features’ – Little just visited NZ troops in Iraq – with just a few fairly subdued comments.

Little’s announcement on Twitter:

Andrew Little ‎@AndrewLittleMP

Just back from visiting our troops on the ground in Iraq

This linked to:  Andrew Little visits NZ troops in Iraq and refugees in Jordan:

Opposition Leader Andrew Little has visited New Zealand troops at Camp Taji, Iraq.

Mr Little also met with Iraqi Defence Minister Khaled Al-Obedih and senior military officials from the Coalition forces in Iraq. He now heads to Jordan to see the unfolding refugee crisis first hand.

“I was invited by Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee to visit our troops at Camp Taji. I made the decision to go because it is important to see for myself the work they are doing and the conditions they are working under.

“I was pleased to see the troops are conducting themselves with the skill and professionalism you would expect of the New Zealand Defence Force. It was good to get a chance to talk to them about their experiences in Iraq.

“New Zealanders may differ on the politics of this deployment, but we are all united in our support for our troops on the ground.

“Labour opposed the deployment because the Iraqi Army’s track record was poor, even after years of training by American and other armies.

“The situation in Iraq, as well as Syria, remains hugely challenging and it is not yet certain how the Iraqi security forces will address issues of motivation and discipline, and continuing ethno-sectarian divisions across the whole army.

“It’s obvious the needs Iraq has won’t be met in the two year period the Government set for the mission, and the Government must now be open with the public about the demands being made of it and its plans.”

Mr Little will now head to Jordan, and will visit the Zaatari Refugee Camp, where 80,000 refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria are now based.

“New Zealand has had a history of supporting humanitarian causes. We believe the Government must double the refugee quota and that we should be stepping up support for the people who are suffering in these camps,” Andrew Little says.