Opinion: We're dreaming if we think keeping troops in Iraq will fix the problem

So despite telling us there would be no troops sent to Iraq in 2014, and then telling us there would be a deployment – but no longer than two years - in 2015, we are now told, this week, that the Iraq deployment of our ostensibly non-combat troops will go on for another 18 months.

1 NEWS Columnist Dita DeBoni Source: 1 NEWS

This announcement is not really much of a surprise, coming as it does after Barack Obama’s April announcement that the US would be sending an extra 217 troops to Iraq – as well as Apache helicopters and other more serious equipment of warfare. Days later it was announced the UK would do the same. Italy, Germany and France have all sent more troops to Iraq this year. 

There’s a total of over 7000 US and coalition troops, including New Zealand, on the supposed “advise and assist” role in the fight against ISIS across Iraq, Syria and Libya.  And those are the ones we know about. It’s understood there are many more American troops in Iraq than publicly declared, for example, including some of the country’s air forces.

Prime Minister John Key says Cabinet has approved the continued deployment of 143 NZ Defence Force personnel. Source: 1 NEWS

However, while the announcement’s not a surprise, it is disingenuous. We need, more than ever, to be told openly and honestly how many troops are in Iraq and Syria – and what precisely they’re doing there.  That is the very least a Government sending people into a war-torn quagmire needs to front up with.

The answer we’ve had is that ISIS presents an enormous threat to New Zealand, as nonsensically pedaled by both John Key and Gerry Brownlee this week.  This is the ‘line’, free for any Government in the ‘coalition of the willing’ to use, to keep uncomfortable questions at bay.

It’s true that ISIS presents a direct and violent threat to the communities of countries across its claimed territory in its so-called Caliphate, the areas of Iraq and Syria in which it has taken hold. It also poses a threat much further afield, including into New Zealand, insofar as its very existence inspires people with nihilistic, violent fantasies.

The PM has defended a decision by his Government to extend NZ’s deployment in Iraq for a further 18 months. Source: 1 NEWS

But no amount of direct warfare against ISIS by Western-aligned troops will make a difference to the second scenario. Possibly quite the opposite.

As Shiraz Maher, a British radicalisation expert writing in the New Statesman said recently, even if ISIS is overrun in the areas currently being ‘liberated’ – they’ll “revert to being a conventional terrorist movement that unleashes waves of attacks against the West and others. IS has already demonstrated both its willingness and ability to strike in Europe, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey.”

Maher continues in the New Statesman that the group the West is ‘advising and assisting’ in Iraq – claimed to be non-sectarian and answerable to the Iraqi Government – is actually dominated by Shias and being directed from Iran. They are also responsible for beating and torturing Sunni civilians. 

The Labour leader predicts full scale civil war is likely in Iraq in 18 months and says the PM needs to be upfront about our extended deployment. Source: 1 NEWS

He says: “Though the ongoing assaults on Raqqa and Fallujah have put IS under pressure on two fronts, anyone hoping this might signal a turning point in the conflict is likely to be disappointed. For every push that shunts IS backwards – often only marginally – many new recruits are spawned.”

Here in New Zealand we seem to trusting in the Government and secure in their knowledge that we’re helping in a winning fight against the ‘baddies’.  But we are dreaming if we think it will help put an end to bloodshed.  The only answer in Iraq is a political one; political progress is the driver of security success, and without it the lives of civilians in this area of the world will remain chaotic and violent.

How this is achieved is admittedly a vexed question. But if some of the greatest intelligence experts of all time haven’t been able to enact it – let alone envisage it, somehow I very much doubt Gerry Brownlee and John Key, dancing to the tune of American politicians, will prove to be any more enlightened.