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New Zealand to close embassy in Baghdad

New Zealand plans to close its embassy in Baghdad by the end of June, following a scheduled withdrawal of its military from Iraq in March, New Zealand’s foreign ministry said Tuesday.

“This decision to permanently close the Embassy was not taken lightly and is in no way an indication of any change in the value that New Zealand places on its relationship with Iraq,” Foreign Minister Winston Peters said in a statement, affirming that the country’s “commitment to the fight against terrorism” would remain.

A member of the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, New Zealand participated in the Coalition’s military campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS) beginning from 2014. It opened an embassy in 2015 to support troops deployed to Iraq to train and advise Iraqi military forces. The mission was originally planned to last two years, but was renewed twice, in 2016 and 2018.

Since 2014, some 47,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces were trained through the joint Australia-New Zealand Building Partner Capacity Program. Australia announced “the completion of its successful training mission” in early June.

New Zealand troops provided combat first aid, live fire and arms handling training to the Iraqi security forces jointly with Australian military personnel at the Camp Taji military base in northern Baghdad.

Camp Taji have been witnessed multiple rocket attacks in recent months since January, after the tensions between US and Iran escalated following the death of Iranian commander, Qasem Soleimani, alongside Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, commander of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic) in Baghdad on January 3.

New Zealand withdrew its military forces from Iraq in March, after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised the full withdrawal of New Zealand troops from Iraq before the end of 2020.

At least four New Zealand military personnel remain stationed at the US-led coalition headquarters in Iraq and Kuwait, according to the statement.

“New Zealand’s formal accreditation to Iraq will transfer to the New Zealand Embassy in Abu Dhabi,” the statement added.

ISIS first swept into Iraq in 2014, capturing cities across northern and central Iraq including Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and the capital of Nineveh province. At the height of its power, ISIS controlled a contiguous area equivalent in size to the United Kingdom. During their occupation of Iraq and Syria, ISIS subjected as many ten million people to an extreme and violent interpretation of Islam.

Although Baghdad declared the territorial defeat of the group in Iraq in December 2017, its remnants have since reverted to insurgency tactics; ambushing security forces, kidnapping and executing suspected informants, and extorting money from vulnerable rural populations. Source