New Zealand to discuss troop deployment in Iraq

Wellington : New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully has left for Baghdad to discuss the country’s military contribution to the fight against the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group in Iraq.

McCully said in a statement issued from his office on Tuesday that he would hold talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Ja’afari.

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“New Zealand is committed to supporting Iraq as they address the threat posed by ISIL (as the IS was formerly known) and build a more law-abiding and democratic country,” Xinhua news agency quoted McCully as saying.

“To date, New Zealand’s contribution to the international coalition against ISIL has been focused on the provision of humanitarian aid to people displaced by the fighting in Iraq and Syria,” he said.

“In February, the prime minister (of New Zealand, John Key) announced plans to deploy a military training mission to Iraq. My visit is an opportunity to talk to the government of Iraq about the deployment and how we ensure our defence personnel have the appropriate legal protections.”

Cully will report back to prime minister John Key and cabinet colleagues on the outcome of these discussions.

Key announced the controversial decision last month to send up to 143 New Zealand troops to Iraq to help in the fight against IS militants.

Key said New Zealand’s military personnel would fulfill a non-combat, “behind-the-wire” mission to train Iraqi security forces, but opponents have said there would be no safeguards against getting involved in combat roles, while claiming forces loyal to the Iraqi government had also committed atrocities.

Critics also say the deployment undermines New Zealand’s independent foreign policy and would unnecessarily make the country a target for terrorist attacks.