John Key has just answered the call to war, and has confirmed what has long been suspected, that we are about to commit soldiers to help Iraq.

This decision to help in the war in Iraq against Islamic State is not illegal. Nor, is it necessarily unethical. There is no crime of war, nor crime against humanity that Islamic State have not committed. The goals of Islamic State are global. Even if we are not to be interested in them, they are interested in us.

From their desire to turn the entire Levant into a totalitarian caliphate, to their urgings to impressionable and alienated individuals to commit acts of terror in their name, they are a problem which must be confronted.

Although the risk in New Zealand of a terror attack is currently low, in Australia, it is high, and in many parts of Europe, it is very high.


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If the Americans did not get involved when they did, it is highly possible that much of the Middle East would have been sucked into a near incomprehensible sectarian war.

An insight to that possibility is already evidenced by a death toll of more than 400,000 shared between Syria and Iraq, since the unlawful American invasion in 2003, toppled the unscrupulous dictator of Saddam Hussein. Into this morass we are about to pour 143 New Zealand soldiers.

Although the Prime Minister assures that our soldiers will not be engaged in combat and they will be made as safe as possible, he correctly identifies that this operation is not without danger. The true extent of this danger is yet to be seen. So too is the duration. Although Mr Key assures us that their mission has a maximum duration of two years, other Coalition partners may have different goals.

This momentum may gather as the forthcoming attempts to capture large population areas under the control of Islamic State and the battles need to be won, house by house, and progress stalls.
As our soldiers are sent into the warzone, we need to be thinking about what peace should look like. It is here that the decision to deploy is weakest.

There is great uncertainty over the Iraqi regime and its associated values we are now pledged to protect. This is not like going to defend Belgium in World War One, or Poland in World War Two.

The Prime Minister is correct to be pushing the Iraqi government to be as inclusive as possible, where all Iraqi's are treated with respect. To work with them to promote better governance is commendable, but we need to aim much higher.

If our goal is to rebuild a civil and safe Iraq, the critique of their democracy, human rights, rule of law and anti-corruption must be at the forefront of our efforts, as it was many of the poor practices of the previous Iraqi regime, which helped grow Islamic State.


We also need to have clear views on what to do with the interlinking problems of Kurdistan and Syria. The other area that the Prime Minister is correct in is that we must utilise every part of our influence on the Security Council, to ensure that this becomes a truly international effort with meaningful and strong regional support, under the flag of the United Nations.

If this does not occur, despite all the noble reasons that we should be involved, we may find the weight of all of the duplicity, anger and hatred in this region of the world, may crush our efforts.

Alexander Gillespie is a law professor at the University of Waikato and author of The Causes of War.
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