New Zealand to send troops to Iraq
An Iraqi Shi'ite fighter holds a rocket-propelled grenade launcher as they prepare to launch an attack on Islamic State militants on the outskirts of the city of Tikrit Reuters

New Zealand has become the latest country to join the US-led coalition which is engaged in an offensive against Islamic State (Isis) militants in Iraq and Syria.

The soldiers will perform a non-combat role, advising and training Iraqi troops. Prime Minister John Key insisted the soldiers will not be "on the front line" of the battle against the Islamists.

Announcing the plans to send 143 troops, Key told parliament that New Zealand has an "obligation" to participate in the ongoing military operation against the extremist group. Most of them will join Australian personnel in Taji Camp 30km north of Baghdad.

"We cannot, and should not, fight Iraq's battles for them – and actually Iraq doesn't want us to. Our military can, however, play a part in building the capability and capacity of the Iraqi forces so they can fight ISIL [another acronym for IS] themselves," he said.

The two-year mission, taking place at the request of the Iraqi government, is likely to begin in May. Australia already has about 600 troops in the conflict zone and is likely to increase the number to 900 by the time army personnel from New Zealand are sent.

Some of the New Zealanders who are currently on a terror watch list are suspected to have travelled to the war zones including Iraq and Syria to fight for the extremist groups.

Opposition leaders have criticised Key's decision to send troops to the war zone.

Following his parliament address, in an interview with TV3's Firstline, Key said: "They're not going on the front line, if you like, in terms of combat."

"As I've made quite clear to people, they would be behind the wire, so I don't think realistically most people would define that as war."

More than 50 countries from the across the world are taking part in the operation against the Sunni insurgents, who have captured vast areas in Iraq and Syria.