Australia, NZ to send joint force to Iraq: reports

Sources have told the ABC that a commitment of additional Australian troops to Iraq, likely to number in the hundreds, is imminent.

It is understood they will be part of a joint mission with New Zealand to train Iraqi soldiers.

New Zealand’s prime minister John Key announced on Tuesday the deployment of 143 Kiwi personnel to Iraq.

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In an address to the New Zealand parliament, Mr Key told his countrymen the deployment would be alongside Australian soldiers.

“This is likely to be a joint training mission with Australia, although it won’t be badged an ANZAC force,” he said.

Australia already has 200 special forces soldiers in Iraq but Ms Bishop says the national security committee of cabinet is reviewing the commitment.

“We have had our presence in Iraq under constant review to ensure that we’re achieving the best outcomes,” she told Sky News.

Ms Bishop said no decision has been made and it’s up to Prime Minister Tony Abbott to make any announcements.

Mr Abbott is due to visit New Zealand later this week.

Cabinet Minister Kevin Andrews is set to open the conference on Saturday.

Defence Minister Kevin Andrews will not confirm the deployment of additional troops to Iraq.

Defence Minister Kevin Andrews welcomed the New Zealand decision during Tuesday’s Question Time.

Asked by the ABC if it would mean sending additional Australian troops, a spokesman for Mr Andrews said that Australia’s commitment was “always under active consideration”.

“Australia continues to talk to Iraq, the US and our other partners about what we can do to support the Iraqi government,” the spokesman said.

“No decisions have been taken by the Government to deploy additional personnel.”

But the cat may have been out of the bag long before New Zealand’s announcement.

In early February, after visiting Australia for the Australia-UK ministerial talks, British foreign secretary Phillip Hammond flew on to New Zealand.

Asked there by reporters about whether the Kiwis should send troops, the New Zealand Herald reported that Mr Hammond said Australia was keen to have New Zealanders join a training mission.

“They are looking at now engaging a training mission – which they are committed to do – which would need another 400 people,” he reportedly said.

“They are desperately keen that a contribution to that 400 is coming from New Zealand.”

Mr Key’s announcement makes for awkward political timing for Tony Abbott.

Mr Abbott is due to make his first visit to New Zealand as Prime Minister on Friday.

It would be highly unusual for the Prime Minister to commit to sending troops abroad while himself on foreign soil.

If, like Mr Key, he is to make an announcement in Parliament, he has two sitting days remaining.

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