ANZUS minus NZ, again?

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Tony Abbott’s visit to New Zealand on 26 February was carefully coordinated with John Key’s announcement of a Kiwi military deployment to Iraq. At 143 ‘combat-trainers’ it wasn’t as large as the 3500 troops the Australian Prime Minister had proposed on 21 February. But for a while it seemed the New Zealanders had upstaged us by having the agreement of the Baghdad government to their presence on the ground.

Now we discover that the NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully has gone to Iraq, just as Julie Bishop did in October 2014, to try to secure a Status of Forces Agreement which would immunise his country’s troops against prosecution for any of their actions which may break the law of Iraq.

The US hasn’t got one, nor have the Canadians (who are operating without it), nor have the Australian Special Forces (whose operations are, as far as we can make out, restricted). Apparently, the Australians are there on diplomatic passports, which is the only way our government could get around Baghdad’s objections to their presence. What status our promised regular troops will have has not been revealed.

Other countries’ ways of getting around the SOFA problem remain mysterious, but Iranians are obviously welcome, because in this fundamentally Shia/Sunni civil conflict, they are co-religionists of the government. It is a sectarian war in which Australia has no interest and can have no useful role.

It will be the ultimate irony if, having virtually declared Iraq War III, the Anglo-allies have to withdraw, admitting that their troops are unwelcome to the Baghdad government. Another country’s Parliament will have done for us what Australia’s Parliament is not required to do, deliberate and decide for or against Australia going to war.

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