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On the edge in Iraq - New Zealand's military advisor with UNAMI

15 February 2007

By Anna Norman, HQNZDF

Lieutenant Colonel Marty Donoghue says his six-month deployment to Iraq pushed him to the very limit of his military professionalism.

“It’s not like you can be fat, dumb and happy over there – every day there were new challenges where you had to think of a solution that was both unique, and also provided security for the personnel you were looking at the problem for. It makes you extend your thought processes; your ability to function; your ability to think. It’s a challenging environment in that it tests you to the extent of your military professionalism.”

The New Zealand Defence Force contributes one officer to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) every six months. As a military advisor, LT COL Donoghue provided the link between the UN and the Multinational Force and Iraqi Security Forces, coordinating security for the UN; leading UN missions outside the organisation’s three areas of operation, and providing military advice on what was occurring to the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General.

He was based out of Baghdad, with an office in Saddam Hussein’s former palace, but travelled throughout Iraq and the region. At night, he slept in one of many adjoining trailers. Then, of course, there was the heat. The day he arrived it was 55 degrees Celsius; the day he left the temperature had dropped below zero. “Extremes – just like the country”, he says.

Having been in Iraq three years earlier with the UN’s Mine Action Coordination Team, LT COL Donoghue was keen to return and see the “progress” – or regress – of the troubled country. “It was not how I expected it to be; I certainly didn’t realise how badly the security situation had deteriorated over those long three years.

“Everything looks like a gated community now. We used to live in Baghdad, within the communities, but that’s obviously no longer feasible. And we don’t have the freedom of movement that we used to have. We used to drive throughout the country – again, it’s just not practical to do that anymore.”

LT COL Donoghue returned from Iraq in late January, but 10 days after returning home he was still struggling to flick the “off” switch.

"[In Iraq] you always have to take a proactive approach to security, so every morning you plan what you need to do to survive the day. I was there as a staff officer so it was nothing like the guys that are standing on a turret of a machine gun, basically waiting for something to happen. But every day you have to consider your security; you can’t let your guard down – which I have to try and do now. I thought it would be easier [to unwind] but it’s actually difficult after six months being on the edge, waiting for the next bang.”

He said part of the challenge of the role is accepting that you’re not there to solve the problems of the world. “If you looked at the problem of Iraq, if you started thinking about the whole thing, your brain would melt and you would spend your whole time thinking about the problems without doing anything. So it’s about small steps; you’re only there for six months so you’ve got to pick off those things that you can constructively do.”

He says making a worthwhile contribution within the role meant building good relationships with coalition and UN staff, and establishing a network of people that would support him to do his job. He also needed to try to “get to grips with the complex problem of what is happening in Iraq”.

Did he? “No – and I think anybody that claims they know what is actually happening in that country is either fooling themselves or trying to fool somebody. It is a complex problem, and not one that you can solve easily by summing it up as this or that, or providing single solutions.”

LT COL Donoghue's next posting was to Army General Staff in Wellington. His replacement in Iraq was LT COL Sid McKissock.

(Reprinted from the NZDF website).

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