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After several years in a country few New Zealanders know much about, the New Zealand Defence Force personnel are to be withdrawn in phases from Iraq.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.

Why New Zealand should stay out of Iraq

You might have heard that Iraq wants New Zealand to become more involved in its struggle against Daesh. Whilst I sympathize with the ordinary war weary Iraqi wondering when they can just stop the fighting and get on with rebuilding their country, there are good reasons why New Zealand should not have a bar of it.

Right from its inception at the end of World War One, Iraq was never supposed to be a nation that would survive. The sectarian tensions that erupted so violently from 2003-2009 throughout Iraq were in part because of a brutal British occupation in the 1910-1920’s. During this, the same Winston Churchill who became a rallying figure for Britain in the 1940’s , at one point considered it okay to use poison gas and aerial bombardment (both things that we see now in neighbouring Syria)to quell an uprising. The Saddam Hussein regime that lasted 24 years from 1979 to 2003. During its hey day Iraq was one of the most progressive nations in the Middle East. Its population were well educated, could drive, work in law, science, medicine, education and enjoyed social freedoms other Middle East nationalities could only dream about.

Yes Saddam Hussein was brutal. Like the British in the 1920’s Saddam took a brutal line on the various groups that lived for his demise. The Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch files on his regime are as hard to look at as they are heavy. He used poison gas, all sorts of barbaric torture. He rigged elections and invaded Iraq’s neighbours, killing well over a million people. Slave labour built him fabulous palaces and his quest for weapons of mass destruction was legendary. But in the cold hard world of geopolitics, his regime was also the glue that kept Iraq in one piece.

When Iraq collapsed following the downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime, which is Ba’athist, it was plunged into brutal sectarian violence as Shia, Sunni and Shiite Muslims as well as Kurds began seeking reprisals for atrocities meted out to them historically. Although the U.S. Army had a plan for dealing with the aftermath of the collapse of Saddam Hussein, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld refused to adopt it. Too few troops were allocated for the necessary occupation and stabilization period during which the Iraqi army and police would be rebuilt. The tactics of U.S. troops ignored local customs, which spawned further distrust and much of the rebuilding that got done before Daesh formed was done by non-Iraqi contractors.

New Zealand has no strategic interest whatsoever in Iraq or other Middle East nations. We cannot solve the geopolitical and security problems in the region until the United States and Russia come on board, which due to Russo-American relations having deteriorated in the last several years, seems improbable. The complicated entanglement of conflicts, agreements and client states and organizations fighting proxy wars on behalf of the U.S. and Russia; Saudi Arabia and Iran is something we have little influence over, even though we are currently chairing the United Nations Security Council. New Zealand is also a nation that has had until the last decade or so, a good alternative foreign policy of working on United Nations reform, staying out of foreign wars and not appeasing the super powers. Although the United Nations reform has been a key part of this National-led Government’s s foreign policy and it has correctly supported former Prime Minister Helen Clark in her bid to get the job of Secretary General, the other two strong points have gone out the window.

Finally, this is an AMERICAN war, not a NEW ZEALAND war. The “War on Terrorism” that led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq started on 11 September 2001, when al-Qaida militants hijacked commercial planes and slammed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and tried also to hit the White House. Horrible as it was, decades of C.I.A. interference in Middle Eastern nations, propping up dictatorships that cared little for the people they oppressed was always to come with an ugly price tag. Did it justify the mass murder of innocents on that beautiful Tuesday morning? Of course not. But I cannot help but note that Saudi Arabia, a supposed American ally has been strongly linked to the attacks. Saudi Arabia has complete immunity from U.S. sanction because of political interests and the military industrial complex, whose million plus employees basically rely on conflicts in order to get paid to manufacture weapons of war, which Saudi Arabia, Israel and other nations buy up en masse.

So, long story short, we should get out of Iraq and stay out. Not least because the U.S. “War on Terrorism” seems content with sabotaging itself for very suspect reasons.

Mission creep in Iraq? Or something worse?

In January 2015, gunmen attacked the offices of French cartoonist Charlie Hebdo in an attack that caused world wide outrage. Nations around the world loudly proclaimed that they were Charlie – a reference in solidarity to the cartoonist. A few days later, clearly disgusted with the attack, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said that in a world fighting a war against terrorism, there was a price to pay for “being a part of the club”. We as a nation did not know who “the club” was or what the price that had to be paid was, but New Zealand was about to find out.

A few months before the Paris attack, perhaps pressured by the United States to play a more active role in the “War on Terrorism”, Mr Key and Minister of Defence Gerry Brownlee announced that they were considering the deployment of New Zealand troops in Iraq. Few people were fussed about the idea then and few are now, as this is a war many from across the political spectrum agree that New Zealand should not have a role in. So, it is with no enthusiasm at all that I read that New Zealand Defence Force personnel are going to have their deployment extended by up to 18 months.

After fifteen years of war against terrorism, and not much obvious progress to show for it aside from huge expenditure on foolhardy enterprises, many people in New Zealand have become cynical about the ongoing war and whether or not it is winnable – if in fact it is even supposed to be won.  One particular friend of mine who I am normally poles apart on politics and a National supporter to boot agreed with me that the unravelling of Iraq and Syria was the end of a geopolitical experiment started by the British and the French during World War One to expand their colonial interests.  We agreed that trying to rebuild a failed western geopolitical construct that was never supposed to exist in the first place was not only silly but potentially dangerous too.  Of the New Zealand deployment, the thinking was – and still is – that New Zealand has no strategic interests in Iraq or Syria that realistically justify deploying army personnel there.

So, are we actually on a mission of any particular significance in Iraq? Or are we doing something worse? I am not wholly convinced we have a mission there any more. New Zealand was never going to contribute more than peanuts to a much bigger problem. We are too small militarily and aside from Middle East oil, what do we actually import from that part of the world? What do we give Middle East nations in return other than an increasingly blind eye to human rights abuses?

This ongoing war against terrorism, I think is now just being fought to keep the military industrial complex happy. The simple lack of obvious objectives, the haphazard approach to the war and the complete and utter failure to engage constructively with the Russians, all the while deliberately inflaming East-West tensions is deliberate. This war is not one I am convinced that the U.S. and its allies WANT to win.

And one we definitely need to get out of.


War on Terrorism just a general war

The United States led War on Terrorism no longer exists. A general war for the sake of having a bloody scrap with no clear objectives is the new deal. Let us not worry about the fact that Saudi Arabia is the single biggest sponsor of terrorism, surpassing even Iran. Let us not worry about the fact that the nation that was the “Arsenal of Democracy” in World War 2 funds and arms Saudi Arabia and thinks its despotic regime are great mates.

U.S. Republican Presidential candidates thump their chests and go on about how they are going to destroy Daesh. They go on and on about rolling out the heavy bombers, about putting troops back on the ground, about turning the sand into glass. And yet these are probably the same Presidential nominees who would turn a blind eye to funds and arms going to Saudi Arabia if it will keep their sponsors in that God awful military industrial complex happy. Are the Democrats any better? Probably not.

That is fine with Russia. Whilst the U.S. funds and arms Saudi Arabia, the Kremlin sees it as a chance to fund and arm their own clients, some of whom are arch foes of Saudi Arabia. Syria is turning into a great testing ground for all the new Russian weapons systems that might have otherwise have stayed in Russia for the duration of their operational life. It is a chance for the Russian miliary to see its new anti-aircraft missiles, aircraft and ordnance being used in action.

No one in a position to stop them cares a jot about the fact that Russian bombs are being deliberately dropped in civilian areas of Syrian towns and cities, such as Aleppo. Perhaps it is because Russian military doctrine has never terribly cared for civilian lives. Perhaps it is because as a permanent United Nations Security Council, Russia knows it has the power to veto resolutions that it does not consider to be in its favour – and does (like the other four hypocrites who make up the Permanent Five).

Let us not worry about France. Blinded by rage following the Paris attacks, and unable to conceive of the fact that its dreadful 100 year geopolitical experiment called Syria has come unstuck on along religious and ethnic lines, the French have been participating in the mayhem almost without a clue as to what they are supposed to be doing there – if anything.

And Britain. The nation that thought Iraq was a great name for Mesopotamia and drew a crude border through a myriad of ethnic groups, not caring how it affected them. The nation that used gas warfare and aerial bombardment to subjugate Iraq in 1920, of course Britain knows best. And like the French in Syria, unable and/or unwilling to recognize Iraq in its current form is finished.

And what about the poor Syrian family stuck in Aleppo with no way out? Bombed out of their home (now messy water filled – hole in the ground), with nothing other than the clothes on their back in pure survival mode – steal, fight, maybe even kill for food, medicine, water, whatever – and traumatised to the point their children have lost control of their faculties. They have seen man made hell first hand. They have seen people die in front of them, people’s livelihoods explode under the impact of bombs and shells. And yet, despite having had an active hand in manufacturing this hell, there are western politicians thousands of kilometres from Syria who think they are terrorists.

Yes. Of course I have nothing to worry about. The Western Governments are all correct about Syria and Iraq are they not? The West knows best according to that tunnel vision work of Francis Fukuyama called “End of History”. We should all congratulate ourselves on a splendid job.

Eh, poor family in Syria?