By Scott Taylor
It has been more than two years now since the phenomenon known alternately as ISIS, ISIL, IS and Daesh first swept out of Syria to capture a vast swath of northern Iraq.
These Sunni Muslim extremists captured a significant arsenal of weapons, armoured vehicles and munitions, which the demoralized Iraqi security forces abandoned. In the north, the Kurds took advantage of the Iraqi army’s dissolution by mounting their own offensive to capture the lucrative oilfields around Kirkuk.
While it is true that the Kurdish fighters, or Peshmerga, also fought Daesh in order to keep them out of Kurdish-claimed territory, it is a conveniently overlooked fact that they also fought Iraqi security forces in order to seize Kirkuk.
As Daesh pushed south towards Baghdad, embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had no choice but to call out the Shiite militia in order to defend the capitol. Iraq’s security forces, which should have been loyal to al-Abadi’s central authority and which have been trained and equipped at great expense by the U.S., had effectively ceased to exist.
To fill the void and to shore up the Shiite militias against the Daesh Sunni extremists, Iran sent in military advisers and weapons. The U.S. cobbled together an international coalition — including Canadian fighter jets — to mount an air campaign to help contain the spread of Daesh.
Inside Syria, Daesh was fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad. To retain his hold on power, and to protect his Alawite Shiite minority, Assad enlisted the aid of Iran and Hezbollah, and eventually he even called in his old friend Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Canadians understood that Daesh was evil, and this was further rammed home with their slick series of graphic beheading and immolation videos. The mood of Canadians was that we needed to do something to thwart this evil entity.
What made things difficult for the Conservative government was the fact that it had demonized most of the groups that were also battling Daesh. It would be a pretty tough sell to suggest to Canadians that we were deploying troops in support of Syrian despot Assad, Hezbollah, Iranian soldiers, Shiite militia or Vladimir Putin.
So instead, we picked the Kurds in northern Iraq as the lesser of multiple evils. Canada agreed to send elite commandos to train and equip Kurdish fighters as well as six CF-18 fighter jets that would only bomb very select targets so the Harper Conservatives would not be seen as an aiding any of their categorized boogeymen.
During the March 2015 offensive to recapture Tikrit from Daesh, Iranian and U.S. advisers worked closely with both Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias. Allied airpower assisted in the victory, but Canadian officials made it clear that none of our aircraft were involved. Iran was big on Harper’s hate list, and even if they were fighting Daesh, we were not about to assist them.
With the Liberals now in power, we have removed our six fighters from the allied air armada, but increased the number of commandos deployed to train Kurds.
The official policy stated by Trudeau’s Global Affairs department is that at the end of the day, Canada wants Iraq to remain a unified state within its present borders, under a central Baghdad authority. That is, of course, not the openly stated intention of the Kurdish fighters whom we are training and equipping.
This is not some underhanded conspiracy theory whispered in dark alleys, given that Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq, has already stated he will hold a referendum on independence this year.
Ironically, it is the oilfields of Kirkuk that will provide Kurdistan with the economic engine to make independence a viable option. These are the same oilfields that the Kurdish fighters captured from the security forces loyal to the Baghdad central government, which our Canadian government purports to support. Oh what a tangled web we’ve woven.