BY SCOTT TAYLOR
With an allied force — including an undisclosed number of Canadian special forces operatives — closing in on Daesh’s stronghold in Mosul, the complex regional conflict in Iraq is getting murkier by the minute.
Twitter photos posted last week reveal that Canadian soldiers are taking an active combat role in the fight for Mosul, however, confusion still exists between our political and military leaderships as to exactly why our troops are putting their lives on the line.
Global Affairs Canada insists that our objective is to support a unified Iraq once Daesh has been defeated. The Canadian military knows that our soldiers are not deployed to Iraq at all, but that we sent them to Kurdistan.
Although Kurdistan is a breakaway state not yet recognized by anyone as an independent country, Canada’s military “brain trust” elected to show support for the Kurdish trainees, by allowing our special forces trainers to wear the flags of Kurdistan on their uniforms. To be completely honest, our soldiers are in fact in solidarity with one particular Kurdish faction, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), which rules as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
For those unfamiliar with the intricate framework of northern Iraq politics, the word “democratic” in the group Kurdish Democratic Party is a little bit misleading. Masoud Barzani is president of the KRG, his nephew Nechervan Barazani is the prime minister and his son Mossour Barzani is the head of the notorious Asayish (Kurdistan’s secret service). It is not so much a political party as it is a family clan — Masoud Barzani’s father, who founded the group, was known in the pre-democratic days simply as the Chieftain.
The Barzanis’ primary rivals for power go by the moniker of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Despite the grandiose name, the PUK is essentially the family clan headed by former warlord Jalal Talabani. Although sidelined by his advanced age and ill health in recent years, Talabani’s sons and nephews retain control of the PUK.
What began as two rival families running competing smuggling enterprises eventually erupted in an all-out war between the Barzanis and Talabanis. Thousands were killed in the resulting clashes. Although at present Barzani’s KDP has emerged as the dominant force in the region, it would be fair to say that the Kurdish population remains deeply divided between the two parties.
Barzani may be a warlord, but he has always been honest about his intention to have Kurdistan recognized as an independent nation. Much to the concern of the central Iraqi regime in Baghdad — the one Canada purports to be supporting — Barzani also insists that Iraq’s rich oil fields in Kirkuk will remain part of his newly proclaimed independent state.
Given that Kirkuk’s output represents about 40 per cent of Iraq’s entire oil production, Baghdad will not likely let this economic crown jewel slip from its grasp without a fight. The Kurds only seized control of the Kirkuk oil patch in the spring of 2014 as Daesh evildoers swept across central Iraq. With the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces fleeing in panic from Daesh, Kurdish troops pushed south and opportunistically secured Kirkuk for themselves. In the two-year interim there have been several reported clashes between Kurdish peshmerga fighters and both Iraqi security forces loyal to Baghdad and their allied Shiite Arab militias.
For the moment, the U.S. has managed to temporarily forge these disparate factions into an uneasy alliance that is focused on the recapture of Mosul. As that prize is nearly in their grasp, the diverse aims of the various allied units cannot help but come to the fore.
Kurdish troops are fighting for their own independent state of Kurdistan, Iraqi security forces are fighting to keep the country united, Shiite militias are vowing revenge on the Sunni Arab supporters of Daesh and Turkey has insisted on joining the fight to prevent the creation of Kurdistan.
Mix into this the disputed control of massive amounts of oil revenue and you just know things are going to get really messy, real soon.
In the middle of all this is our undisclosed number of elite Canadian commandos wearing Kurdistan flags on their sleeves, while officially deployed to unify Iraq.