Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has just left Iraq after a secret visit to hold high-level defence meetings in Baghdad and to meet New Zealand trainers at Camp Taji north of the capital.

While there, he hinted there was a role for New Zealand in the reconstruction of Iraq.

And he suggested there could be a move to extend the mandate of the Kiwis at Taji to work on intelligence beyond any immediate threats to the camp.

The Iraqis are close to recapturing Mosul, the last big Isis base in Iraq, so the focus by Iraq and the coalition of 23 countries assisting it is turning to what happens next.


Brownlee was on his third trip to Iraq as Defence Minister and was accompanied by the Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating.

The Herald was there too. The mission was kept secret for security reasons.

Brownlee travelled by helicopter from Baghdad airport to the secure international zone where he met Iraqi President Fuad Masum, Iraqi Defence Force head General Othman Alghanimi and senior United States generals, General Stephen Townsend and General Joe Martin.

At a press conference with the Iraqi general, Brownlee congratulated Iraq for taking the fight to Isis.

"What we are seeing unfold, I think, is an Iraqi solution to what have could have been a very big international problem.

"When we see displaced people on our television screens at night, then we do know that there is a reconstruction need here that clearly the coalition will need to address," he said.

Brownlee also said that the international effort in reconstruction "needs to be as strong as it has been in supporting Iraq in this particular battle".

"We've agreed that ridding not only this country but the world of that particular terrorist evil means that there can be no vacuum for anyone else to fill beyond the military success."


Asked what he wanted Coalition countries to do after the liberation of Mosul, Othman said through an interpreter there was a five-year plan for re-organising and restructuring the Iraqi Army as well as improving border protection with new technology.

"And of course this phase will require a lot of training, a lot of equipping of armaments and supplies. Definitely all of these topics have been discussed and negotiated with the coalition of other countries and they are standing side by side to provide good support."

New Zealand has about 100 people at Camp Taji with a non-combat mandate to take part in training and force protection within the perimeters of the camp - which is about 6km by 6km.

They are allowed to participate in intelligence work only as it affects the immediate area outside the camp.

Brownlee hinted that intelligence work, although still done at Taji, could extend to a wider area.

"What we are going to need to know is, as cities like Mosul fall, as pressure on some of the smaller towns that may harbour the last of the [Isis] fighters grows then they will run somewhere," Brownlee said.

"We need to be in the loop in an intelligence sense, knowing where they are going because we don't want them coming our way.

"That may mean we have to look at some of the constraint that we have on the behind-the-wire activity that is mandated here at Taji.

"I wouldn't speculate yet on what that might mean but it doesn't mean combat.

"It does mean that we get good information flows to protect our society at home."

He said changes to intelligence gathering would have to go through Cabinet.

The Taji Task Group is run by 300 Australians and 100 New Zealanders.

Originally a two-year mission for the Kiwis, it was due to finish in May this year but has been extended to November next year.