Senior Defence Ministry staff told the United States Embassy that former Prime Minister Helen Clark had decided to send soldiers to Iraq to stop Fonterra losing lucrative Oil for Food contracts, WikiLeaks cables reveal.
One of hundreds of leaked diplomatic cables, the information from the US Embassy in Wellington said the identities of the unnamed defence staff should be "strictly protected", after they briefed embassy staff on a Cabinet meeting in which Miss Clark's government did an about turn on sending troops to Iraq, the Dominion Post reported.
"Senior MOD officials (strictly protect) tell us it was not until Finance Minister Michael Cullen pointed out in a subsequent Cabinet meeting that New Zealand's absence from Iraq might cost NZ dairy conglomerate Fonterra the lucrative dairy supply contract it enjoyed under the United Nations Oil for Food program," the cable said.
It said the prime minister "found a face-saving compromise" by sending non-combat engineers to be embedded with British forces.
Two rotations of 61 engineers spent a year in Basra from September 2003, performing engineering and humanitarian tasks.
Another cable from 2005 said the embassy had no information to indicate any Muslim terrorist cell was operating in New Zealand but that police were monitoring some New Zealand Muslims who may have fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia and possibly Chechnya.
The cable recorded there were about 50,000 Muslims in New Zealand, including 708 Maori converts.