Why NZ sent army engineers to Iraq in 2003

There has been outrage from Helen Clark, Phil Goff and Jim Anderton over a claim by a US Embassy official (in the Wikileaks documents) that:

“Senior MOD officials (strictly protect) tell us it was not until Finance Minister Michael Cullen pointed out in a subsequent Cabinet meeting that New Zealand’s absence from Iraq might cost NZ dairy conglomerate Fonterra the lucrative dairy contract it enjoyed under the United Nations Oil for Food program, that the prime minister found a face-saving compromise and sent combat engineers in a non-combat role to Basra, where they were embedded with British forces.”

A later US cable dated 22 February 2005 (not yet publicized) claims that “Sending combat engineers to Iraq has enabled the giant New Zealand dairy exporter, Fonterra, to bid on lucrative Iraq-related contracts.”

It may be that the “senior MOD officials” got it wrong about Cullen and the Cabinet discussion. What we do know is that Defence and Foreign Affairs and Trade officials (who work closely together) would have been aware of a link between sending a military  unit to Iraq and obtaining ‘lucrative’ dairy deals. It may well have been a factor in their proposals to Ministers, even though they would probably have avoided explicit trade references in the written papers they submitted.

I believe the main driver behind our army engineers going to Basra was a wish by the Labour government not to get too far off-side with the US and Britain after it had not contributed troops to the invasion.

Sending the army engineers did compromise New Zealand’s opposition to the war. The unit was embedded in a camp of British army engineers, some of whom were directly engaged in combat. Our engineers repaired British military patrol boats, built defensive fortifications and roadblocks for the British, as well as helping them with logistics. So while our unit did help repair schools, it was also engaged in combat-related tasks.

It is misleading to say that the pressure for us to send a military unit came from the UN. America and Britain were strongly pressing nations like New Zealand to send forces to Iraq. They way they saw it, the more countries that had troops on the ground, the more they could justify their occupation of Iraq.

Both the Americans and British were in no doubt that New Zealand was part of their occupation coalition, Operation Iraqi Freedom, as I pointed out in Parliament in 2004.

At the time, the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Iraqi Freedom website pointed out that Britain ‘has several national contingents under its command’ in Multi-National Division (South-East), including “New Zealand”.

6 thoughts on “Why NZ sent army engineers to Iraq in 2003

  1. Nice analysis. It’d be good to finally get to the bottom of the decisions to intervene in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

    In terms of all the “Kiwileaks” (and especially in regard to uncovering the roots of NZ foreign policy), I’ve got a blog post which I’m trying to continually update with links to all the news stories and analysis of them here:

    http://liberation.typepad.com/liberation/2010/12/wikileaks-the-nz-related-cables.html

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  2. Good work Keith. Good luck Bryce. One would hope to “finally get to the bottom” of some of these things, though I do not have much optimism about it.

    Overall, I think that the flavor of these things is a concealed bias, reflected in our actions, to do what Uncle told us to do. That the concealment is unraveling is not a bad thing.

    BJ

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  3. Well blowing my own trumpet, I did describe this as a ‘guns for butter’ deal at the time – and I suspect Afghanistan is no different.
    Basically they are criminal wars – there has been no sight of Osama Bin Laden, nor any WMD in Iraq.
    When one looks at the US economy, it doesn’t take long to realize that the Prima-Donna of Industry there is the Exportation of War.

    Yes they might go broke – but the Prez that tries to take a dollar off the Pentagon – well they’ll find a bullet somewhere eh?
    Just ask JFK,MLK,RFK – the last US public figures who tried to roll back such foolishness.
    No one dares try anymore.
    Interesting that the plan for Guantanamo was to close it and send the inmates to NZ. America sees us as a Dump!
    No doubt with suitable ‘homeland security’ measures.
    Increasingly, New Zealander’s seem in need of protection from it’s own Government.
    In fact we had to pass a whole raft of ‘liberalizing laws’ to allow drunken Rugby hoodlums to lose all their money here in 2011 – rules that don’t apply to your average Kiwi….which gives rise to another question; – is there any such thing as an ‘average’ kiwi?
    After the last budget I suspect the species may not last!

    Poor bloody Fonterra hey? – we produce enough food to feed 130 million but can’t cut our own citizens affordable food!
    Not all thieves wear a mask – the most successfull wear a suit ime.

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  4. “Not all thieves wear a mask – the most successfull wear a suit ime.”

    Couldn’t agree more. Sometimes now more crimes are committed and more damage is done with a pen than a gun I would say.

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  5. The war in Afghanistan is about controlling the drug trade & Iraq is about the Oil.. the USA motto is in GOD we trust.. GUNS, OIL & DRUGS. Its these things that drives not just their economy, but the world. Kia-ora

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