In New Zealand, there was some cynicism about Prime Minister John Key's visit to Iraq.
There was also the inevitable and understandable questioning about just how controlled the media with him were. Most of it was from people who weren't there. Most of it was also fairly insulting given the seniority levels of the reporters there. It assumed they could be 'controlled' and easily fall for the spin.
The Prime Minister went to assess for himself the answers to the questions that his decision to deploy had raised: was it safe, could the New Zealanders make a difference, was it right to be involved in a war that was not New Zealand's?
For the media, the trip was about assessing for themselves the answers to those questions. Seeing things gives context. Being able to watch soldiers doing a job and looking them in the eye when they tell you about it will always tell you more than official advice in a report at a desk in Wellington. Indeed, most of our time there was spent talking to the personnel rather than watching the Prime Minister.
Other than the US spokesman for the so-called Operation Inherent Resolve - such a pompous title even New Zealand soldiers find it hard to say with a straight face - those who spoke to us did not give a sanitised version of what was happening.
There was little point - the truth of the environment and challenge they were facing was in front of us. It was in watching two Iraqi soldiers who had already seen action rolling on the ground laughing in repeated failed efforts to master the shoulder lift - a basic technique for soldiers. It was in a trainer saying that the satisfaction of the role came from knowing they were increasing the soldiers' odds of staying alive. The overall mission is to beat Islamic State. Whether New Zealand's specific presence will make any difference to the chances of that is debatable.
For those trainers, it was more personal than an overall mission goal. They were dealing with the humans involved. They knew full well the people they were waving off after six weeks were heading back into a scenario in which death was a prospect and the trainers would soon be training their replacements.
It was a surprising level of access for media. However, the inability to identify the soldiers, even by the use of nicknames they use with the Iraqi trainees, hampered the ability to tell their story. It also lent to the perception it was a PR exercise for the Prime Minister. Barred from showing anybody's faces, the only New Zealand face we could show was Key's and the Chief of Defence Force's so most of the footage and photos featured Key.
The Australian Defence Force does not have the same rule, which meant I can name an Australian medic, but not the five New Zealand medical staff she works with at the Taji clinic. And those doctors, nurses and medics had stories to tell - from the social life in the camp to saving a US soldier's leg. The leg was crushed at the airport, and the bone pulverised. The New Zealand team operated in a theatre set up in a large dome tent alongside the medical centre - a scene Key likened to M*A*S*H. They used 30 units of blood.
Seriously injured people are shipped out, usually to Kuwait and Germany. One doctor described the centre's work at Taji as "we stop the bleeding, stop anything that's leaking, package them up and ship them out." But had it not been for that intervention and the sophisticated equipment in the rather rudimentary surroundings, the leg would have had to be amputated. Last heard, the soldier was getting about on crutches.
Key now has some thinking to do about the two-year limit he has put on the deployment. Such is the attrition rate in the Iraq Army - both from deaths and desertions - the need for basic training is unlikely to reduce. He met with the troops not just in front of the cameras but in private around the dinner table as well. Many made it clear they had jumped at the assignment, bored in the lull after the withdrawal from Afghanistan. They also made it clear they believed it was a worthwhile mission.
When the powhiri was held for Key, many of the 300 Australian troops came along as well. The emblem for the Anzac's joint 'Taskforce Taji' mission is an intertwined boomerang and silver fern. It is on their sleeve patches and flags. Nor is it simply lip service to a joint effort - the Australians and New Zealanders work in the same teams. In his address to the troops in Taji, Key made much of that Anzac spirit and the difference he believed they were making. As US President Barack Obama has done, Key has also often spoken about the battle against Islamic State being a world-wide battle - not just Iraq's.
It was hard for some to see the justification in Key's decision to deploy the troops in the first place. It is harder still to see how Key will justify a decision to cut and run after that type of rhetoric, especially if Australia stays on.