The Defence Force has put its training mission in Iraq on hold as New Zealand soldiers turn to defending their base amid growing tension in the region.

But the military says it's not preparing an evacuation yet.

Iraq's parliament has passed a resolution calling for foreign troops to be expelled from the country amid escalating threats between the United States and Iran over the killing of a top Iranian commander in an American air strike in Baghdad.

New Zealand currently has 45 Defence Force personnel stationed at Camp Taji, near the city, where they have trained Iraqi soldiers since 2015. Five more personnel are based in Baghdad.

Advertisement

The Government last year announced the mission would be wrapping up by June, 2020.

READ MORE:
How Iran could retaliate to US attack
US President Donald Trump warns of 52 targets if Iran retaliates
Iran vows 'harsh' response after US airstrike kills top general Qassem Soleimani
$80m price on Donald Trump's head after Iranian assassination

But on Saturday, six people from a medical convoy in the Iraqi militia the Popular Mobilisation Forces were killed in an airstrike near the camp and concerns have been raised about New Zealand troops being caught up in retaliation by Iran.

In a statement on Monday, the New Zealand Defence Force rejected reports it was already planning to evacuate its troops from Taji.

"The NZDF is not actively preparing to evacuate New Zealand personnel in the region," a spokesman said.

"Any decision to evacuate NZDF personnel would be a decision made by the NZ Government."

Separately, Defence Minister Ron Mark said the main work of the operation was being put on pause.

"Currently, training activities with the Iraqi forces at Taji are on hold, as the focus turns to the force protection of our members," he said.

Advertisement

"The NZDF remains vigilant to any changes in the security environment anywhere our troops are deployed. Stringent force protection remains in place to ensure all deployed NZDF personnel remain as safe as possible".

Defence Minister Ron Mark says the NZDF is staying vigilant. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Defence Minister Ron Mark says the NZDF is staying vigilant. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters earlier joined calls for a de-escalation and restraint and said New Zealand was closely watching and reviewing the security situation, including what it could mean for troops on the ground.

"The global coalition has worked very hard for its achievements in the fight against Isis. It is important that these gains are preserved and consolidated, not undermined," Peters said.

"We view very seriously any threats to deployed Coalition members, including New Zealand diplomatic staff and military personnel. Recent attacks on coalition bases and embassies constitute unacceptable risks to their safety."

New Zealand had not been given advanced notice of the US airstrike, he said.

New Zealand authorities have also "strongly advised" 15 other New Zealanders believed to currently be in Iraq to leave immediately.

Advertisement

Meanwhile, lobby group Auckland Peace Action has been calling for New Zealand to fully withdraw ahead of schedule.

"NZ must respect [the Iraqi parliament's] resolution and get the remaining 43 members of the NZDF out now," member Valerie Morse said.

Iraq's Prime Minister, Adil Abdul Mahdi, over the weekend described the US killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani and eight others as a "political assassination" and called for a timetable to be set for the withdrawal of foreign forces.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dismissed the statement, saying he believed the Iraqi people wanted American troops to remain to fight terrorist organisations.

Iraq's Government would have to pass separate, binding legislation to end the agreement that allows foreign forces into the country.