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

Support for NZ's Iraq effort on rise

Iraqi troops train with New Zealand Defence Force personnel during John Key's visit. Photo / Fairfax Media
Iraqi troops train with New Zealand Defence Force personnel during John Key's visit. Photo / Fairfax Media

Support in New Zealand for the deployment of Kiwi trainers to Iraq to help in the fight against Isis has increased, according to the latest Herald DigiPoll survey, and opposition to it has declined.

Just over 63 per cent support the deployment, up by 3.9 points since the same question was asked at the beginning of the deployment in April.

Opposition has reduced by 4.4 points to 30.1 per cent.

The New Zealand Defence Force is running a joint training mission with the Australian Defence Force at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad.

About 105 New Zealand personnel are based at the camp and a further 40 are deployed in support roles in the region.

Prime Minister John Key visited the base in October with a group of New Zealand journalists and he believes the coverage of the Kiwis' work has contributed to greater support.

"The greater exposure of the tremendous work our men and women are doing to up-skill the Iraq army is being rewarded with even greater levels of public support," he told the Herald when told of the poll results.

"Kiwis know that we have a part to play in standing up to the threat posed by Isil."

More than 2000 Iraqis have been trained at Camp Taji and some are thought to have been involved in an attempt by Iraqi forces to retake Ramadi from Isis, west of Baghdad.

Labour opposed the deployment at the time, saying it would have no effect but has since said there could be a role for the SAS to be deployed.

The United States has asked all countries at present contributing to the fight against Isis in Iraq or Syria to consider increasing their efforts.

Waikato University law professor and war specialist Alexander Gillespie said the poll reflected a solidification of position and less uncertainty in which a solid majority of people in New Zealand believe the military support given to Iraq to fight Islamic State was justified.

Such solidification was not only occurring in New Zealand.

"The United States, Germany, France, Australia and the United Kingdom are all at the forefront of hardening public opinion in recent months and the need to either join the fight directly, or actively support it indirectly."

The year 2014 was a record for terrorist-related deaths, at more than 32,000 people and 2015 would eclipse the record of 2014, he said.

Since the last poll was taken, terrorist attacks had increased.

"From lone wolf attacks in Australia through to military-style operations in Paris, citizens in the West feel more threatened than at any point in recent history.

"Downed Russian airliners over the Sinai, dead British tourists in Tunisia or executed workmates in San Bernardino are all pointing in the same direction.

"The stylised executions of single hostages in jumpsuits has been replaced by the rubble of the World Heritage site of Palmyra, the mass graves of the Yazidi and a slowly spreading Isis cancer throughout the Middle East and North Africa."

Professor Gillespie said in Iraq everyone was waiting to see how the newly trained and heavily armed Iraqi forces, supplemented with coalition air-strikes, performed in trying to retake Ramadi.

"If the Iraqis can stand on their own two feet, the argument that 'boots on the ground' are needed to put some steel into the Iraqi forces will be dented.

"If the Iraqi forces cannot make progress against Isis by themselves, the call for boots on the ground, already loud in many countries, will intensify. Those calls may echo in New Zealand."

- NZ Herald

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