New Zealand military role in Iraq confused

Green MP Keith Locke wants the Government to re-think its commitment of army engineers to Iraq in the light of British government misleading portrayal of their role.

Several news sources yesterday quoted the British Ministry of Defence as including New Zealand among those countries contributing to their “peacekeeping” force in Iraq.

“British officials are now brazenly misrepresenting our army engineers as ‘peacekeepers’ – that is as part of the occupation force,” said Mr Locke, the Party’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson.

“It is not going to make the troops any safer, given that Iraqis are now targeting British forces in the south for allegedly throwing their weight around.”

Six British troops were killed on June 25 last week following criticism that they were acting insensitively to the local population.

“The New Zealand must get the British government to formally retract the ‘peacekeeper’ label. Prime Minister Helen Clark made it clear when the commitment was made on June 9 that the engineers were not going there as part of the British occupation force,” said Mr Locke.

“This latest confusion shows just how hard it is to separate a construction function from a patrolling function when the engineers will be armed and embedded in a British military unit.

“We would have been much better, as the Greens have suggested, to send civilian reconstruction workers to help Iraqis rebuild their country.

“At least we wouldn’t then be compromised by being seen as part of the British occupation force, and retrospectively endorsing a war we opposed at the time.

“It is not too late to replace the planned military reconstruction contribution to Iraq with a civilian team,” said Mr Locke.