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Why Are Nz Military Exercises Simulating Iraq?

14 February 2005

Why Are NZ Military Exercises Simulating Iraq?

- Murray Horton

Most commendably, New Zealand stayed out of the illegal invasion of Iraq. The Government blotted its copybook by sending a token force of engineers to the southern city of Basra (in the British zone of occupation) on a hearts and minds exercise to rebuild schools etc. The Shi’ite south was supposed to be more accommodating to foreign troops. The reality proved otherwise, and in 2004, a significant faction of the Shi’tes rose in armed resistance.

The result, embarrassingly for the PR spin doctors of the NZ military, was that our engineers ended up hunkered down inside the British base, unable to venture out, let alone complete their various reconstruction projects. Those troops were duly withdrawn in 2004 and the Government said that they would not be replaced (unlike the NZ military presence in that other American war zone, Afghanistan. There, NZ troops are regularly rotated in and out). There is now no NZ military presence in Iraq.

Which begs the question – why did an annual military exercise in Canterbury simulate conditions in Iraq? There is no apparent resemblance between the rolling green South Canterbury hills that surround Waimate and the physical and political inferno that is Iraq today. But that’s exactly the scenario that was used in Operation San Donata, in January and February 2005 (it was named after an Italian village where a Waimate soldier won a medal during WW2). 150 soldiers, including 115 Territorials, did things such as "defending a polling booth, hunting rebels in the hills, and protecting election officials" (/Press/, 1/2/05,

"Troops descend on Waimate in annual exercise"). Why? Is New Zealand preparing its military to take part in the shonky election process that the US occupiers are forcing on Iraq (in the hope of securing an acceptable puppet government)? Who are these "rebels" that our brave troops are hunting? After all, the Iraqi Resistance are only doing what the Maori forebears of so many of our present soldiers did when their lands were invaded by foreign troops and what any New Zealander would be expected to do if it was our country that was being occupied today. So, come clean, Helen and tell us what’s going on. Why is the NZ military conducting exercises that simulate Iraq?

Of course, there is no shortage of New Zealand volunteers eager to join the armies of mercenaries in Iraq. There have been official admissions that serving military personnel and cops have been, in some cases, working in Iraq while on paid leave from their jobs. The attraction obviously is the big money. I had this confirmed to me, in person by a most unexpected source – one of my next door neighbours.

He told me that he was a serving soldier, based at Burnham (the South Island’s Army base, south of Christchurch), living off-base. He was about to finish up, after service that included stints in East Timor and Afghanistan, and didn’t feel that he had the necessary skills to cut it in civilian life ("I can do a reconnaissance", he told me). When I asked him what he planned to do, he immediately replied "I’m going to go to Iraq, you can get $12,000 a fortnight there". When I suggested that he might also get his head cut off, he snorted that that would never happen to a Kiwi, as "we’re always armed at all times".

Yeah, right. I thought that this was an extremely unusual conversation to be having on my own driveway on a sunny Christchurch Sunday afternoon (mind you the circumstances of his being on our driveway were even more unusual.

He was there to clean up the eggs with which our house had been bombarded the previous night during one of the innumerable rowdy parties held by him and his fellow tenants – but that’s a whole other story. Suffice to say that having suffered through six months of living next door to armed forces personnel socialising, I don’t think the Iraqi Resistance has got anything to fear from those particular soldier boys. Although I suppose, if they were really in a tight spot, they could always chuck eggs at them).


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