New Zealand has no place in Iraq


With the attacks by Iran on U.S. targets in Iraq, it is time to question whether New Zealand should have military assets in the region.

Some people say that we were formally asked to be there. So we were, but that fails to acknowledge the simple fact of the matter that New Zealand has no business in Middle East conflicts unless it is part of a United Nations sanctioned operation.

New Zealand should withdraw its troops from Iraq forthwith. There are better places that they can could go – if they really need to be in the Middle East, they should be part of one of the numerous operations in adjacent countries. Whilst it is noted that Iraq has such a mission itself, it is also noted Iraq has just voted to end the military presence of all foreign troops in the country. New Zealand would do well to recognize that.

When Iraq was invaded, the United States despite claims to the contrary, never had a real plan for putting the country back together. It was well known Iraq was at high risk of falling apart along sectarian lines, which would involve the major Sunni, Shia and Shiite sects fighting among themselves. And fight they did. Those lines in the sand drawn by diplomats with probably little understanding of or care for the ethnic geography of the region in 1916 cut straight across ethnic boundaries, and were brutally enforced by British and French forces.

Iran has also had a turbulent 100 years with both western and Soviet interference, which such large numbers massacred in the 1910’s by the Ottoman Empire. In the years prior to the Iran-Iraq War the Shah was toppled in Iran, which up to that point had been a somewhat forward looking nation. TheĀ  Women were not restricted in what they could wear, do for jobs or for a social life. The Iranian Revolution saw many of those rights lost. It also saw a significant hardening of Iranian U.S. relations, which further deteriorated with the Iranian hostage crisis in Tehran, and was followed by the Iran-Iraq war where it was known that Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons against Iranian targets. Then the U.S.S. Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger plane killing all 290 on board, which the U.S. refused to apologize for, though compensation was paid.

It is easy to over simplify the complex web of geopolitical relations in the Middle East. Because of that, the simplistic idea that New Zealand is working to help the U.S. ensure terrorism ends in the Middle East ignores for example the various militant groups that are active – al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Houthi’s, the Iranian Republican Guard Corps, Islamic State among others. It ignores who is funding/arming them and what those nations are trying to get out of doing so. It ignores the ambitions of groups like the Kurds who were promised statehood at some point in the past only for it to be reversed. It ignores the wider U.S.-Russian rivalry where proxies in the region fight wars on their behalf.

Also, given the influences that the U.S. agenda of ending terrorism has been highly suspect for some time now, which New Zealand should recognize, it is also a moral question of whether we should be there.

I say not.

 

U.S. assassination of Iranian commander further destabilizes entire Middle East


The explosion of the missile that killed Iranian Quds Force commander General Qasem Soleimani has done more than just kill America’s credibility in Iraq. In one truly daft move, it has set in motion a chain of events that could permanently undo America’s Middle East foreign policy, cause another major war and dial back the clock on international security by years – if not decades. And as the world reacts with shock, the primary players seem to be becoming increasingly bellicose.

The broad consensus among the general public is that Mr Trump really wants a war with Iran, undercutting his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who insists no such outcome is sought. The extent to which Mr Pompeo is being undercut can be clearly seen in some of the language being used by Mr Trump. Immediately after the assassination of General Soleimani, Mr Trump started off warning of a severe response if Iran tried to retaliate. When Iran said that there would be consequences, the rhetoric changed to talking about 52 targets being shortlisted. And as the international alarm bells started ringing, the rhetoric changed again, to threatening a disproportionate response.

One potentially overlooked part of the matter is Iraq. It has been host – albeit in many ways an understandably unwilling one – to thousands of international military personnel, mainly from the United States, but more recently Germany, France, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and others with varying roles in helping Iraq rebuild its security and remove the last of the Daesh. As it has watched its towns getting ruthlessly fought over, first during the invasion of Iraq, then as the sectarian violence rocked the country between 2003 and 2011, and more recently the Daesh insurgency, millions of refugees have been generated. Towns, families, communities have been torn to shreds. And all for what, they justifiably ask. Thus no one should be surprised that after nearly 18 years of conflict, Iraq – still recovering from the bloody Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 and the 1991 Gulf War – has told its Government to start working towards getting rid of these misery makers.

Although the New Zealand Defence Force has committed to staying put for the time being, that may change whether they are prepared to admit it or not. As a developing situation that has the potential to get considerably worse in the near future, it is possible that an escalation of attacks or a general deterioration in regional security may undercut the N.Z.D.F.’s commitment. In this case I expect that the Army personnel would be pulled out of Taji and probably brought home.

None of this condones what Qasem Soleimani and his Quds Force did. Many innocent people died in violence brought about by him and his forces. But assassinating him in a foreign land, without Congress being notified, never mind approving the operation, has shown a dangerous level of contempt for international law as well as U.S. Constitutional law.

The ripples extend further than just Iran and Iraq. They potentially affect the entire Middle East. Iran has withdrawn from the nuclear agreement and said it no longer abides by it. This will alarm those hoping for calm, but excite the hawks in both the Pentagon and Tel Aviv who might finally get the war that they have been longing for. Russia views Iran in much the same way as America views Israel, and in a national security sense, this has potentially massive implications for the region.

New Zealand Defence Force might return to Iraq


I have heard a suggestion that the New Zealand Defence Force might have to return to Iraq.

If the New Zealand Defence Force does return to Iraq, what are we going to do? Are we going to continue training Iraqi soldiers who might then go shoot dead civilians in the street as they have been doing these last few weeks? Are we going to be there in a monitoring capacity? Are we going to be peace-keepers/makers?

Historically New Zealand was involved in the crude British operation in 1916 that lead to the formation of Iraq as a Western geopolitical construct with no regard for ethno-geographies. One might argue on that basis that therefore we should be involved in Iraq because we helped to make the mess that led to Iraq’s formation, we should be a part of the solution to its re-establishment as a nation state.

But I am not honestly sure Iraq is destined to survive as a nation state. When it was founded, the borders cut straight through ethnic groups. Thus some found themselves in Persia (which became Iran). Some found themselves in what would become Turkey after World War 1 ended and others wound up in the French construct that ultimately became Syria. The treaties that were brokered following World War 1 did initially for example acknowledge the Kurdish people in northern Iraq and Syria as well as Turkey and accepted that an independent Kurdish state might be necessary.

Unfortunately all of that unravelled, which is a shame because in the post-Saddam Hussein mess that Iraq has descended into, a Kurdish state in the north of the country would help bring some stability to the Turkish and Syrian border regions. As the Kurds are one of the more progressive ethnicities in the Middle East, the relatively advanced social status of their women would go some way towards being a guiding beacon that Middle East women can understand.

But back to the New Zealand Defence Force. I personally would be reluctant to send them back – I had doubts about their original mission in light of the apparently aimless U.S. mission which went from Operation Iraqi Freedom to general war for the sake of war.

Could/should the New Zealand Defence Force risk getting its hands soiled by trying to keep the peace between Shia, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, whose rivalry goes back hundreds of years? The rules of such conflicts are generally messy, and New Zealand is constrained by the Geneva Conventions in terms of what we can and cannot do. Were we to find ourselves in breach of these, it would be hugely damaging for our reputation as a country that prefers peaceful outcomes, but which will fight a hard clean fight if we have to.

And what would Iraq say to the idea of a Kurdish state covering much of the traditional lands of the Kurds? As with Iraq’s neighbours Syria and Turkey who both have significant Kurdish populations, I doubt their response to such an idea would be at all warm. Turkey views the Kurdish Workers Party (P.K.K.)as a terrorist entity and it is blacklisted by the United Nations as such, which would mean New Zealand could not recognize it. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan very much wants to neutralise the Kurd’s as a political force, and sees Turkey’s future in reviving the Ottoman Empire.

If we really must go back we should be putting as much effort as possible into removing unexploded ordnance, helping rebuild infrastructure and showing Iraqi’s how to maintain it. Last time this was a successful initiative as it showed the Iraqi civil population that not all of the western countries were there for the fighting and that there were people who cared about them. It would also help acknowledge our historic links to the geopolitical designs of Britain in the 1910’s.

The slow (and overdue) withdrawal from Iraq


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.

 

 

New Zealanders want nothing to do with Syria


When the news broke that the United States had fired cruise missiles at Syria, my immediate reaction was to wonder whether Russia would return fire. With Moscow furiously denouncing the strikes and warning that the United States was only one step away from a direct Russo-American confrontation, the headline writers were asking whether we are watching the opening steps of a much bigger – and worse – war.

As the surprise wore off, and the diplomatic responses started coming in from around the world – American hawks were delighted; politicians around the world were mixed with some being delighted and others being openly hostile – the response coming out of New Zealand was surprisingly clear across the board: WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!

Concerns about our involvement in the war against Islamic State in Iraq, and the Syrian Civil War on one hand is growing – the escalating tensions between the two main powers means more and more people are paying attention, even if it is a war they do not want the country involved in. The time for apathy is over. It is a simple fact that a large and growing number of New Zealanders want nothing to do with the U.S. intervention in Syria.

For the following reasons:

  1. It is not a war that New Zealanders feel they have or should have anything to do with
  2. Even if the aforementioned reasoning fails, New Zealanders are distrustful of America’s motives in becoming militarily involved – just because Washington D.C. says something is right does not any more make it right than if another foreign power says so
  3. The security risks that it exposes New Zealand to are unjustifiably high and the fact that we have not been subject to a major attack is largely because of our refusal to get involved
  4. There is no obvious plan for making peace – Mr Trump, like former President Barak Obama before him is changing like the wind

I have no desire to see New Zealand get involved in any way in Middle East wars in the future unless the operation is a United Nations Security Council sanctioned one. We need to get out of there and restrict the foreign aid we give to being humanitarian and legal aid only and at the direction of relief agencies on the ground.

There is a significant number of non-military things New Zealand can do to help Syria. One of these, which would ease the plight of refugees somewhat from Syria – and other nations – is by immediately raising the refugee quota to 1500. We should build a second resettlement centre in Christchurch to take the pressure of the Mangere facility in south Auckland. A second thing would be an “Adopt a refugee” or “Adopt a family” progrmamme, whereby a refugee agency matches people wishing to adopt with refugees and they assist them with settling in New Zealand – although these programmes most likely already exist, there is a significant case for expanding them. These refugees are likely to be nervous, certainly will not know anything about New Zealand or New Zealand customs or have met any New Zealanders except perhaps those working with relief agencies.

The second strand of help we can offer is to offer assistance with gathering evidence of war crimes, and use our contants in the United Nations to support resolutions that aid and abet a peaceful end to the conflict. New Zealand’s relatively neutral standing and the fact that we are known for our support of United Nations operations, means as opposed to Russian or American officials who will be perceived by one side or the other as probably working for people with an agenda.

But Prime Minister Bill English is dreaming if he thinks New Zealanders will tolerate being dragged into a war that more and more people are realizing there is no real plan to end. Mr English would be wrong to assume that New Zealanders would support deploying the New Zealand Defence Force in the Middle East.

Get out, and, unless it is a United Nations sanctioned operation, stay out.