If ground forces can rid Iraq of the murderers known as Isis, New Zealand should be there. This country ought to be counted among the nations that are willing to act when the cause is just and military force can be effective.

Few would argue that rescuing Iraqis from Isis is not a just cause, the debate will be about whether foreign intervention can do so. It is a debate New Zealand should resolve sooner rather than later.

All the signs suggest this country is about to be asked to contribute special forces to an international effort once the final election result allows the Government to be sworn in.

The Prime Minister sounds reluctant to commit soldiers, as he should be. He says he will not rule out sending them if asked "but it would be my least preferred option". It is everyone's least preferred option.


The United States is not anxious to put ground troops into Iraq again so soon after withdrawing them. President Obama has been hoping that air strikes alone might "degrade and destroy" the Isis army in western Iraq.

Air strikes held up their advance on Kurdistan, rescued a religious minority facing slaughter and enabled Iraqi forces to reclaim a dam that would have inundated cities had it been sabotaged. But air power is seldom decisive, as a new wave of Kurdish refugees in Turkey can attest. Britain, whose Parliament voted to support the US action, already has some SAS on the ground with US special forces to help to select bomb targets and guide air strikes. Australia, too, has sent special forces with its strike aircraft to a base in the Gulf.

The next likely step will be to dispatch armed "advisers" to train and support Iraq's troops but on previous experience they would soon be fighting alongside the hosts, as New Zealand's SAS did in Afghanistan. The way Iraqi forces fell away from the initial Isis advance suggests the foreigners would need to do a lot of fighting.

The risk for all countries in sending troops to this conflict is that Isis has sympathisers in those countries who would resort to random acts of terror. Australian police claim to have acted against one such plan to carry out an Isis-style murder on a Sydney street two weeks ago. It would be wrong for the Government to ignore the possibility of terrorist reprisals, but equally wrong to let that risk discourage it from assisting an international effort to save a large swathe of Iraq - and Syria if possible - from a reign of terror.

Syria makes the task much more difficult. Isis is one of several rebel forces that have been waging a three-year war against the regime of Bashar Assad, whom few countries would want to assist.

Yet without pursuing Isis across the border into Syria any success in Iraq is likely to be temporary. That is a problem well recognised in Washington and in the British House of Commons when it voted last week to support the US.

The New Zealand Government should probably call the new Parliament into session sooner than scheduled once a request is received to join the action against Isis.

There would be intense opposition, as there has been to the mere hint this week that a request was coming. Labour's Phil Goff, its previous Minister of Defence, pointed out that John Key had "ruled out" military involvement in Iraq as recently as June.

At that time President Obama was resisting calls even for air strikes. Much has changed in three months.

Isis has recruits from Western countries carrying out murders and a coalition of the willing has begun to respond. This country ought to join it and contribute what it can.