Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Key: Iraq contribution likely to be humanitarian aid

John Key and Helen Clark discussed the situation in Iraq during their meeting in New York today. Photo / NZ Herald
John Key and Helen Clark discussed the situation in Iraq during their meeting in New York today. Photo / NZ Herald

Prime Minister John Key and his predecessor Helen Clark said today the crisis in Iraq would be best addressed by establishing a political process.

Helen Clark, now the Chief of the United Nations Development Programme, joined criticism of the Iraq Government which had been accused of concentrating power in the hands of Shia to the exclusion of Sunnis and Kurds. Mr Key said there was a role for the Security Council.

The Iraq situation was one of the areas they discussed during a courtesy call Mr Key made to UN headquarters at the United Nations Development Programme in New York.

Ms Clark said her own staff in Iraq had been evacuated to Jordan.

Asked what the role of the UN should be, she said it would be to try to get some kind of political process going which engages the leaderships of the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

"It's fair to say there has been a lot of comment that the Government in Iraq has not been as inclusive as it could have been, and therein lies a tale which has seen part of the population alienated.

"It's a country with these very distinct areas where different groups reside, and clearly this militant group has gone through the Sunni heartland.

"The question is 'is there a political solution capable of putting this back together?'

"I think from the international community there would be a strong desire to see Iraq stay as a single country within the boundaries we know today.

"A sectarian conflict which fuels a civil war is a very, very ugly thing which is why all pressure should be on for some kind of political accommodation."

Mr Key said the only long-term solution for Iraq was one where diplomacy was at play, and where the various factions could be accommodated.

"Without that, instability will reign for a very long period of time. And the Security Council can play a role in that. Diplomacy has got to be at the forefront."

Helen Clark was asked about her decision as prime minister not to join the coalition which invaded Iraq.

She said she always believed it was the right one, and said it was drawing a long bow to connect what happened in 2003 and what was happening today.

"I think what is happening today has a lot more to do with the style of governance in Iraq, and had it been more inclusive in recent years and not seen the alienation of significant minorities, it might be in a different space."

Mr Key is in New York to lobby for a seat on the Security Council against Spain and Turkey, a bid which Ms Clark began. She said she could not take sides in the election because she had to get on with them all.

Mr Key presented her with a basket of New Zealand food, including Snax, Marmite and Choysa tea.

Prime Minister John Key with New Zealand's ambassador to the UN, Jim McLay at a wreath from New Zealand. Photo / NZ Herald
Prime Minister John Key with New Zealand's ambassador to the UN, Jim McLay at a wreath from New Zealand. Photo / NZ Herald

Earlier today (NZT) Mr Key said New Zealand's only contribution to the growing crisis in Iraq would likely be humanitarian aid.

"I don't think it is at all likely that New Zealand would put boots on the ground there," he told New Zealand reporters after visiting the 9/11 memorial site.

It was a civil war between two religious groups, he said.

"We're not a country out there looking for a fight."

Any involvement by New Zealand was likely to take the form of humanitarian aid to be given to non-Government organisations for distribution.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was drawing up a proposal at present to canvas where aid could be given.

"But I don't see our involvement in Iraq being any greater than that."

He would discuss the fast unfolding situation with US President Barack Obama at their White House meeting at the end of the week, he said.

Mr Obama has ruled out taking part in a ground war in Iraq, but he has informed Congress the US is reportedly deployed up to 275 combat-ready military personnel to Baghdad to protect the US embassy there.

An aircraft carrier, USS George HW Bush, has been deployed to the Persian Gulf for possible support.

In an interview with Reuters he raised the possibility of sending in special forces to help to train Iraqi troops.

Mr Key ruled out any deployment of New Zealand's SAS to train.

Reports emerged at the weekend of mass killings of Iraqi troops by the al-Qaeda breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and The Levant (ISIS) which has gained control of north Iraq.

In fighting at a police station in Baquba, just 60km from Baghdad, 44 prisoners being held there were reportedly killed yesterday.

New Zealand took part in the invasion of Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

But it did not support the invasion of Iraq. It was only after the UN Security Council passed a resolution lifting sanctions on Iraq that New Zealand contributed. It sent about 60 engineers to support British forces in southern Iraq in non-combat roles.

Mr Key said like any global issue, New Zealand would always look to the Security Council for its view and its sanction of what should happen.

"You can never say never, that in a world where the Security Council decides that Iraq needs support of some sort, engineers, whatever it might be, that could always be considered, but I think that is very unlikely."

Mr Key expected any involvement by New Zealand would be within Security Council sanctions, but would not be categorical.

"You always want to give yourself some flexibility, but I just think it's not a situation where we're likely to get asked to go and provide some support in an isolated group of small countries. I don't think that's the way Iraq will play out."

At the 9/11 memorial, Mr Key paused in silence for a few moments at the wreath given on behalf of New Zealand.

He walked around the two large sunken reflection pools where the Twin Towers once stood, and which carry the names of the 2977 people killed on September 11 in New York, at the Pentagon and on Flight 93.

He paused at the names of the two New Zealanders killed, Alan Beaven and John Lozowsky, and that of his former Merrill Lynch boss Michael Packer who had been giving a speech in the World Trade Centre when the planes struck.

Mr Key also took a tour of the 63rd floor of the One World Trade Center, a single 104-storeyed tower that has gone up next to the memorial park.

It has not yet been completed inside but is 60 per cent let.

It cost $4 billion to build.

- NZ Herald

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