NZ Iraqis welcome US help for army

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 14:43 20/06/2014

David Shearer talks Iraq

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Iraqis in New Zealand are welcoming moves to reinforce the Iraqi army which is struggling to contain a brutal insurgency closing in on Baghdad.

The comments come as US President Barack Obama announced he would send up to 300 US troops to Iraq as advisers to help the struggling Iraqi army trying to turn back the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) army.

Obama also said the US was prepared to launch targeted military strikes while stressing that Iraq's Shia-dominated political leadership needed to be more accepting of religious minorities to prevent divisions along sectarian lines.

The New Zealand Government has also announced it would give $500,000 to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help people displaced by fighting in Iraq, though Prime Minister John Key has ruled out sending troops.

Assyrian Association New Zealand spokesman Sarjon Warde welcomed Obama's announcement, saying it could help the Iraqi Government regain control.

"Today I could see the terrorists, the ISIS group, they are very close to the capital, they took control of one of the towns close to the capital and it seems like the government is not able to control the military in such a way that would be effective to stop ISIS from controlling these areas and these cities," he said.

"They will need help and they will need better management."

He agreed with Obama's comments that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had "lost control" and could not "control his own army", needed to be more inclusive to avoid fostering resentment and a widespread split along sectarian lines.

"That's what gave the chance to ISIS groups to control these areas without anybody stopping them... and it's kind of sectarian war as well, because this ISIS group mostly are Sunni and the government, the prime minister is Shia."

Warde, who still has family in Iraq, though they were relatively safe in Kurdistan, was worried about the ISIS advance and the threat they posed to the capital.

As an Assyrian, he was especially worried about the impact on minority groups in areas controlled by ISIS and lamented the destruction being wrought by the group rejected by al-Qaeda as being too extreme.

Warde said he wanted the UN to mandate foreign intervention to help Iraq, including authorising foreign troops to go to protect civilians.

But Labour foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer, who was based in Iraq with the United Nations from 2007 to 2009 to help with the rebuild following the US-led invasion, said a resolution was unlikely and unnecessary as Iraq had asked for help.

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Shearer, who witnessed the violence brought about by sectarian tensions and saw colleagues killed in insurgent attacks, backed Obama's moves to send advisers, describing it as brinkmanship as Obama put the pressure on the Iraqi Government to step up.

"What they're doing is saying we're not going to give assistance unconditionally, it's going to be conditional on you stepping up to the mark as well as, so that's the reason they're sending in advisers," Shearer said.

It was also important the Iraqi Government moved to address the concerns over its sidelining of minorities.

Shearer did not believe ISIS could get to Baghdad, saying the US and Iran would intervene.

The Shia militias, prominent in the mid-2000s under leaders such as Muqtada Al Sadr, would also re-emerge in order to prevent this happening, he said.

The worry in this scenario was that it could lead to widespread sectarian violence, including within Baghdad which had a mixed population and Sunni and Shia living in the same neighbourhoods, and would end up killing more people than just a straight military assault, he said.

Shearer also backed the donation to UNHCR saying it was wise to start with such an amount and see how it was spent and what else was needed.

- The Press

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