By: Scott Taylor
Last Thursday, CTV News broadcast a story from the front lines in Kurdistan. The hook for this feature was Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance’s surprise visit to liaise with members of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR).
There are now about 200 members of this regiment deployed as trainers to help prepare Kurdish peshmerga militia to combat Daesh.
The site where Gen. Vance was filmed was a destroyed highway bridge on the road to Mosul. The span over a muddy stream was purportedly blown up when defeated Daesh fighters withdrew from the region.
In anticipation of Vance’s arrival, the CTV crew filmed a CSOR soldier, securing the northern side of the defunct bridge. This rugged trooper was decked out in full special forces gear — including a new helmet design and complete with sunglasses and beard. This soldier emphasized to the assembled media team the numerous dangers their close proximity to the actual front lines poses.
The Kurdish media had openly broadcast the location and timing of Vance’s visit, so there were heightened fears that Daesh would attempt an assault on such a high-profile target. However, as breathlessly as the CTV reporter tried to torque up the drama, a handful of Kurdish soldiers soon turned up on the southern side of the bombed-out bridge. Wearing only berets and bereft of any body armour or combat gear, the Kurds waved like schoolboys to attract the camera’s attention. Their light-hearted antics quickly sucked the suspense out of the moment.
A Kurdish general was soon in front of the CTV camera lens, praising Canada in one breath, and then pleading with us to send more weapons with the next. Thus when Gen. Vance’s convoy rolled to a stop at the bridge, one of the first questions the reporter put to him was when will the Kurds get new weapons. Vance had to explain that it is not Canada’s intention to re-equip the Kurdish militia, but rather to create an elite Kurdish commando unit with specific capabilities.
The other question put to Vance was when will the offensive begin to recapture the Daesh held city of Mosul. Naturally enough, Vance sidestepped the question, as no one would really expect him to telegraph the international community’s strategic plans via a media interview.
A better question for Vance would have been: Why are the soldiers of CSOR wearing the distinctive flag of the Kurdistan flag on their uniforms? The red, white, and green striped flag with a yellow sunburst in the middle is evident everywhere throughout Iraqi Kurdistan and it is definitely not the red, white, and black striped flag with Arabic letters in the middle that is the recognized flag of Iraq.
Canada’s position is that we are in support of a unified Iraq, under a central Baghdad authority. The Kurdistan flag — flown above all Kurdish government buildings, many private homes, military checkpoints, and on the uniforms of the peshmerga fighters — symbolizes the Kurds’ quest for their own state.
We have deployed some of our most capable soldiers to help train the peshmerga, but that does not explain why Canadian soldiers would be authorized to wear the flag of Kurdistan on their combat uniforms.
Canada does not recognize Kurdistan as a nation and, in fact, the Kurdish flag is seen as a provocation to not only central Iraq authorities, but also in Turkey, Syria and Iran where they have large Kurdish minorities and armed separatist movements.
It may seem cool for our soldiers to slap another Velcro patch on their uniforms, and no doubt the Kurdish peshmerga would smile approvingly at seeing Canadians wearing a symbol of an independent Kurdish state. However, until such time as Ottawa alters its policy of reunifying Iraq following the defeat of Daesh, our soldiers wearing those flags on their uniforms sends the wrong message.
As Canadian soldiers, deployed by Canada, they should wear the Canadian flag — and only the Canadian flag — on their uniforms.