When is deployment day?
Gerry Brownlee may be less jocular than usual when he parks himself in his usual Cabinet seat on Monday, two along from Prime Minister John Key. He will be presenting the final plan for the deployment of up to 100 New Zealand Defence Force personnel to help fight Isis (Islamic State) in Iraq. It is not a Yes or No decision. It is more of a "who, where and when and how long" decision. We all know there is no way Cabinet is saying no.
Key gave the Government's green light in principle to a deployment in his first national security speech on November 5 last year, when he announced a team of 10 planners had been dispatched to the Middle East to scope out options for a non-combat role to help train Iraqis to become soldiers.
He has been justifying a deployment ever since. The Chief of Defence Force has been in Saudi Arabia this past week with other military contributing countries. New Zealand troops are already in pre-deployment training at Linton, near Palmerston North, and at Waiouru. The soldiers are getting used to the equipment they will be working with, learning about the local conditions, customs and religion, and acquiring language skills. The temperature in Baghdad now is in the low-20s. By July it will be more like the mid-30s, on average.
Where will the Kiwis go?
Camp Taji, a massive airbase about 30km north of Baghdad, is the most likely. Defence Minister Brownlee confirmed the military advisers had visited the base among others.
At its peak during the Iraq War 2003-2011, with thousands of military personnel passing through or based there, the camp had its own Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Burger King outlets. It used to be the base of the Republican Guards under Saddam Hussein's regime, became an American base, and since 2011 it has been an Iraqi base though many permanent buildings have been left empty, gathering dust since the Americans left in 2011.
Taji is one of the two main bases where US troops and Australians are training Iraqi army recruits.
The other is at Ayn Al Asad in Anbar province in the west, where several hundred US Marines are based and which, going by recent reports, sounds more dangerous than Camp Taji.
About 8km away from the Ayn Al-Asad base is the town of Al Baghdadi, which was captured by Isis a week ago. Since then 45 burnt bodies had been found in the town. The Pentagon also reported an attack on the base a week ago, in which 20 to 25 people led by suicide bombers and mostly in Iraqi military uniforms, made it to the perimeter.
How will the training work?
It could be very basic stuff. The US military took a group of journalists into Camp Taji last month.
The head of the training mission, Command Sergeant Major Michael Grinston, told the Washington Post: "We are giving classes on the will to fight."
After capturing the city of Mosul in northern Iraq last year, four divisions of the Iraqi army comprising 30,000 troops simply disappeared.
How many were killed and how many fled is not known. What is known is that the US spent about $33 billion training the Iraqi Army before 2011.
The new US programme aims to train 5000 Iraqis in basic weaponry and tactics within eight weeks but with a stronger emphasis on training for officers and commanders.
Restoring confidence in a demoralised force will be key to the training as well.
Training used to be on a large scale, with a company of about 100 under the tutelage of four or five trainers. The class sizes are likely to be more intimate working with the depleted force.
The SAS will be deployed in a protection role for trainers but will be specifically non-combat - that is, they won't initiate contact with enemy.
Canadian Special Forces who are there in an "advise and assist" capacity came under machine gun and mortar fire last month with Iraqi security forces but they fired back and "neutralised" the threat.
A time limit will be put on it, but that is meaningless. Deployments can always be extended. NZ last sent a detachment of 61 military engineers to Iraq in 2003. They worked alongside British forces and were based in Basra.
What are the dangers?
Quite apart from unexpected attacks from Isis, experience in Afghanistan has shown there is a real risk for foreign troops of "green on blue" attacks, when trainee turns on trainer once training is conducted with live ammunition.
Between training sessions, the Iraqi and coalition forces are expected to live separately, using different barracks and different canteens, not least to accommodate different eating habits.
Corruption is known to be endemic in the Iraqi military with the loyalties of soldiers often lying with tribal leaders rather than commanding officers and with commanding officers often skimming off a portion of weaponry or ammunition to sell on the black market, or siphoning off salaries being paid to "ghost" soldiers, according to the New York Times.
It was apparently a lot worse under the former Prime Minister Malik. Current PM Haider al-Abadi, has carried out a purge of corrupt commanders and is trying to set up better weapons registration systems.
Who is the enemy?
Isis or Islamic State is known for barbaric slaughter, some of which it chooses to video. Its aim is to establish a caliphate, a state led by a religious leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, under Islamic law.
It has control of parts of Syria and northern Iraq and is now seizing parts of Libya. It has involved Egypt with a mass execution recently of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya.
By the time New Zealand Defence Force personnel actually arrive in the region, the situation will have changed again. In one of the most in-depth articles on the group, Graeme Wood in The Atlantic argues it is wrong to say they are "not Islamic". Though it had attracted psychopaths and adventure-seekers, the religion it preached was derived from coherent interpretations of Islam. Up to 20,000 are estimated to be "foreign fighters" i.e. not from Syria or Iraq.
Will joining the coalition increase the risk of an Isis-inspired attack in New Zealand?
Common sense would say yes because no country is immune from extremism. The risk of a co-ordinated Isis militia springing up in New Zealand would have to be considered less than the risk of an Isis-inspired lone-wolf attack on some person or institution in response to New Zealand committing troops.
Key has beefed up the funding and powers of the Security Intelligence Service to response more quickly to terrorism suspects. The official risk-level in New Zealand is decided by a committee of Government intelligence officials without any political input. It recently moved from "very low" to "low" - meaning possible but not expected. There is no rating for "Not expected but would not be a shock if it happened."
Who is doing what already?
The US has about 3000 troops as well as fighter jets and drones for air strikes in concert with British air strike capability and SAS.
Australia is contributing air strike hardware and has 600 troops in what it calls Operation Okra. It is preparing to increase its contribution by 300.
Canada has 700 troops, Denmark 250, Italy 280, the Netherlands 250 and Spain 300 trainers.
Singapore has announced it will make a contribution too. Britain originally mooted a training role for itself in December last year but went cold on it with a public backlash against potential missions creep (Britain lost about 180 lives in the last conflict and the US about 4500).
A stinging report from the British Parliament Parliament's Defence committee virtually accused Britain of doing nothing and having no strategic plan, although it did host a meeting in January of about 25 countries making a military contribution.
Only the United States and Britain have conducted air strikes into Syria. Intervention in another country without the consent of the sovereign Government requires Security Council backing for it to be lawful but in the case of Iraq, it is definitely lawful because the Iraqi Government has asked for international help.
Is Nato involved?
Not yet. Nato, a security alliance of 28 countries including the United States and Canada, has not taken a role in the fight against Isis - although several European members have - but advisers are assessing an invitation to lead a Nato training mission in Iraq which could be a game-changer.
Nato led the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) which began in Kabul and eventually covered all of Afghanistan, with 150,000 troops under ISAF command at its peak.
Much of Nato's attention is now focused on security issues between Russia and Ukraine. Though Ukraine is not a member of Nato, the alliance worries that the tactics or Russian-backed rebels there could be used against the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are part of Nato.
Does the Five Eyes intelligence alliance or the Washington Declaration require New Zealand to join the coalition?
No to both. It may be Key feels personally obliged to make a military contribution as "the price of the club" but neither the Five Eyes intelligence alliance nor the Washington Declaration defence co-operation agreement, signed in 2010, requires a contribution from New Zealand. Neither is a binding security pact.
What has New Zealand's position been until now?
Key's position on Isis has changed dramatically, but then so has the influence of Isis.
On June 10 last year, Isis shocked the world by seizing Mosul, Iraq's second largest city. Ten days later Key was in the US at the exact time President Barack Obama was planning its response and to send Secretary of State John Kerry on a regional mission to the Middle East.
Key, in New York, was quite adamant that any involvement was likely to be humanitarian aid. "I don't see our involvement in Iraq being any greater than that," he told reporters on June 18.
Two days later he was at the White House talking to Obama and had many meetings with him and with Australian PM Tony Abbott in the following six months.
The deployment will be debated in the House next week after a formal Prime Ministerial statement by Key but Parliament won't be making the decision. That will be the Cabinet's alone, on Monday.