Why the si­lence over Iraqi deal?


As the Gal­lipoli com­mem­o­ra­tions draw near, so does the de­par­ture date of the 143 New Zealand troops be­ing sent to Iraq.

Over the past year, New Zealand’s po­si­tion has shifted from not send­ing troops at all to where some will play a train­ing role along­side 300 Aus­tralians based at Camp Taji, near Bagh­dad.

Al­most as an aside, the Key Gov­ern­ment has con­ceded un­der ques­tion­ing that our troops might also be en­gaged in mil­i­tary plan­ning and with the call­ing in of air strikes.

This widen­ing range of ac­tiv­i­ties has put a ques­tion mark over the deal ham­mered out be­tween New Zealand and Iraq.

Un­der what con­di­tions – if any – could New Zealand sol­diers be pros­e­cuted un­der Iraqi law?

If our troops are en­gaged on a mil­i­tary mission, De­fence Min­is­ter Gerry Brown­lee has in­di­cated that they would have full im­mu­nity and would also be able to de­fend them­selves if at­tacked – but this rather begs the ques­tion as to how the two coun­tries get to agree on what is an of­fi­cial mil­i­tary mission.

An­other grey area ex­ists over the im­mu­nity of in­di­vid­ual sol­diers if and when it comes to al­le­ga­tions of rape, or solo acts of vi­o­lence.

The Gov­ern­ment has re­fused to clar­ify the legal ba­sis of our Iraq en­gage­ment.

‘‘ Why would you?’’ Brown­lee said last week. ‘‘It’s an ar­range­ment be­tween two gov­ern­ments.

‘‘It re­lates to the ac­tiv­i­ties our guys will be in­volved in. And as you know, there are se­cu­rity con­cerns around that.’’

For Iraq and New Zealand, this cone of si­lence serves a use­ful po­lit­i­cal pur­pose.

Here at home it avoids em­bar­rass­ing ques­tions about what we’re ac­tu­ally do­ing in Iraq.

As for the Iraqis, the gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad is no­to­ri­ously sen­si­tive about seem­ing to con­done the pres­ence of for­eign troops on its soil.

If this ret­i­cence was mo­ti­vated solely by con­cerns about the se­cu­rity of our troops, it would be un­der­stand­able.

Our al­lies in Iraq – Australia, Canada and the United States – are surely equally con­cerned about the safety of their troops, but they have been far more forth­com­ing.

Last week for ex­am­ple, it was the Aus­tralians – and not the Key Gov­ern­ment – who re­vealed that 50 New Zealand troops are al­ready train­ing in Australia for the co-de­ploy­ment in Iraq.

In Australia it is also a mat­ter of public record that their SAS con­tin­gent en­joys im­mu­nity while in Iraq from the fact they have been is­sued with diplo­matic pass­ports by the Bagh­dad gov­ern­ment.

In a fur­ther ex­am­ple of open­ness, the Amer­i­can sta­tus of forces agree­ment for Iraq is pub­lished on­line – New Zealand First’s Ron Mark tried in vain last week to ta­ble it in the House.

Re­port­edly, our troops – like the Aus­tralian SAS – may well en­joy the same level of im­mu­nity as diplo­mats if it came to crim­i­nal ac­tions and al­le­ga­tions.

Why our Gov­ern­ment has cho­sen not to clar­ify and con­firm this sit­u­a­tion can­not help but breed sus­pi­cion that the muchtouted ‘‘ train­ing’’ role of the 15 or so spe­cialised train­ers on this mission ( out of 143 troops be­ing sent) is only part of the story.

For now, the Gov­ern­ment’s stub­born ret­i­cence about the terms and con­di­tions of our de­ploy­ment in Iraq looks less like a con­cern for the wel­fare of our troops and more like an at­tempt to in­su­late it­self from me­dia scru­tiny.

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