Prime Minister John Key announced on November 5 that his government will send an initial 10 military personnel to Iraq to discuss a role for a larger contingent of soldiers to assist the US-led war in the country. Although precise details have not been announced, Key signalled that New Zealand soldiers would help train the Iraqi army and could also be involved in intelligence gathering. A military contingent of 45 personnel currently patrolling waters off Somalia for pirates could also be strengthened and re-deployed to assist the war.
Prior to the September 20 election the National Party government and opposition Labour Party both expressed support for the US intervention in Iraq and Syria, while saying it was unlikely that they would send troops. There was no further discussion of the issue during the election campaign by the corporate media or the political establishment.
Now with the election out of the way, the government has decided, behind the backs of the population, to drag the country into the war.
Key declared that NZ's contribution was aimed at fighting the extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as ISIL), and "to support stability and the rule of law internationally". Last month Key described ISIS as "very bad people [who] left unchecked... will rain carnage on the world".
The entire corporate media, including so-called "left" commentators, is backing the decision to go to war and propagating the same lies. The New Zealand Herald 's liberal columnist Bryce Edwards claimed that Key was "no military hawk" and his announcement was "relatively moderate and liberal". Pro-Labour blogger Josie Pagani, who has repeatedly called for military intervention in Syria, applauded the war as a fight against "modern day fascism".
Another Labour-aligned columnist, Chris Trotter, denounced "the Far Left's historical opposition to 'imperialist wars'" and implied that such a position in this case meant supporting ISIS.
In fact the assault on Iraq and Syria has nothing to do with combating Islamic extremism. It is an imperialist operation to secure US hegemony over the oil-rich Middle East. The rise of ISIS has provided the pretext for direct intervention to strengthen Washington's hold on Iraq and topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which has been the target of a US-backed regime-change operation for the past three years. ISIS and other Sunni Islamist groups have received funds and weapons from the US and its allies to fight against the Assad regime.
Conscious of the widespread public opposition to war, Key stated that he was "ruling out" deploying the elite Special Air Service (SAS) commandos or any other soldiers in combat roles. However, he later told the media that the SAS "could theoretically" be deployed, ostensibly to provide protection for NZ military trainers. The SAS, which consists of highly trained killers, took part in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, where it was complicit in war crimes including a deadly raid on a defenceless village.
Key also outlined plans to strengthen the powers of the state on the pretext that the country faces the growing risk of a terrorist attack. The prime minsiter declared on November 3 that there were "people in New Zealand, in our view, who are actively raising money for ISIS". Two days later he stated that security agencies had "a watch list of between 30 and 40 people" who supported ISIS, including some who had travelled to Syria or Iraq and others who were "becoming radicalised" and were "attracted" to carrying out domestic terror attacks.
Key said an additional 40 people were being investigated and "could well be added to the watch list". No one has been arrested, however, and the government has provided no evidence to support its fear-mongering claims.
He announced that the government will increase funding for the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and empower the agency to carry out warrantless spying for up to 48 hours. This follows a law change last year to legalise mass surveillance on New Zealanders by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), the country's external spy agency, which works closely with the US National Security Agency as part of the Five Eyes alliance.
These sweeping powers are not aimed at so-called terrorists, but at the working class. The spy agencies will be used to monitor and suppress opposition to war and social inequality.
In parliament Labour's interim leader Annette King said the party would back increasing the powers of the SIS. While Labour does not currently support sending NZ troops to Iraq, it has no objection to the war itself. Leading MPs have criticised the government for failing to "make the case" to the public for the deployment. Foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer said the government "should seek a United Nations Security Council resolution for a mandate to have forces on the ground."
Greens co-leader Metiria Turei told parliament that her party "does not support any form of military engagement with the war effort." In August, however, Greens foreign affairs spokesman Kennedy Graham stated that "New Zealand should never support any military action that is not explicitly authorised by the UN Security Council" and urged the government to "promote multilateral action" in Iraq through the UN.
Like Labour, the Greens do not oppose the US war as such but would prefer that it had the figleaf of UN approval. The Greens have previously criticised Russia and China for vetoing Security Council resolutions that would have paved the way last year for a direct US attack on Syria.
The 1999-2008 Labour government, supported by the Greens and the "left wing" Alliance, sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq. The deployments played a critical role in strengthening intelligence and military ties with Washington. During Key's visit to Washington in June, US president Barack Obama stated that "the US-New Zealand relationship has never been stronger."
While Key insisted that the government had an "independent" foreign policy, New Zealand's ruling class has concluded that its interests are best served by supporting US imperialism as it marches towards war in the Middle East and elsewhere.