After several years in a country few New Zealanders know much about, the New Zealand Defence Force personnel are to be withdrawn in phases from Iraq. The announcement comes in the wake of the end of major operations against the Islamic State (Daesh), whose forces have been largely destroyed following a savage campaign across several countries to establish an Islamic Caliphate.
The conflict in Iraq has had no relevance to New Zealand. The conflict came about as a result of the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which saw its ethnic minorities freed from the yoke of a regime that inflicted harrowing crimes against them. With an authoritarian regime no longer there a bloody and brutal sectarian war began to engulf the Shia and Sunni religious sects.
Taking advantage of the internal chaos, having unpopular foreign forces on ground considered holy to Muslims, the Daesh began to expand through Iraq and Syria. Their advance was brutal and where ever they went atrocities were committed – old churches and mosques not considered to be pure were demolished, Yazidi women were sold into slavery.
Against the concern that the Daesh could form an Islamic Caliphate spanning Middle Eastern countries with Shariah law, western nations began forming a flimsy alliance with the Kurds and other groups. It was not co-ordinated well. Supposed western allies such as Turkey objected to what they viewed as preferential treatment towards groups they dislike (in Turkey’s case the Kurds). Gradually though the Daesh were pushed back in long bloody battles that have cost tens of thousands of lives, caused untold damage and suffering and the loss of historic monuments, artefacts and other things of cultural importance.
Among all of this has been a New Zealand mission at Taji, where they have been training members of the Iraqi Security Forces. According to Newstalk ZB 44,000 I.S.F. members have been trained at Taji where New Zealand forces worked alongside Australian forces.
New Zealand forces will remain in Afghanistan for sometime longer yet. In a country where no foreign power has ever quite understood the geopolitical forces at work, it has been declared important that the continued training of Afghanistan soldiers and army officers continue to be undertaken by New Zealand personnel. Accordingly a reduced mandate has been allowed to continue until the end of 2020.
I think New Zealanders will be pleased to see the Defence Force down scaling its Middle East operations. In a region where New Zealand has little influence and few strategic interests, it is questionable what we can or should gain from operating in a “Hey there! look at me – I’m from New Zealand!” approach that effectively begs Daesh or whoever else may target New Zealand to take notice. In time we will withdraw from Afghanistan too, and hopefully before any further lives are lost. Eight New Zealanders have died in combat roles in Afghanistan since the N.Z.D.F. was first deployed there following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks:
- Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, Private Richard Harris and Corporal Luke Tamatea – K.I.A., 19 August 2012
- Lance Corporal Leon Smith – K.I.A., 28 September 2011
- Corporal Doug Grant – K.I.A., 18 August 2011
- Lance Corporal Rory Malone, Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer – K.I.A., 5 August 2011
- Lieutenant Timothy O’Donnell
In addition two more have been killed in non combat actions whilst serving in Afghanistan. They are Corporal Douglas Hughes and Private Kirifi Mila.