By Scott Taylor
Last week Conservative party defence critic James Bezan put forward a motion requesting that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan appear before a House of Commons committee. It was Bezan’s hope that Sajjan could answer questions to Parliament — and by extension all Canadians — about the Canadian military’s current and future role in Iraq. Bezan also wants to know where Canada now stands on the provision of weapons to Kurdish militia in Northern Iraq.
The Liberals used their majority on the defence committee to scuttle Bezan’s request to grill Sajjan on this issue. Somewhat feebly, the Liberals then offered instead to throw Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance into the hot seat to discuss Iraq.
However, as it is Vance’s responsibility to carry out government policy as instructed, it would be folly to expect him to speculate on the future of Canada’s role in Iraq. He will simply do what the Liberal government tells him to do.
At the moment, Sajjan’s elusiveness would appear to indicate that the Trudeau Liberals don’t have a clue about what to do next.
During the three-year-long fight to defeat Daesh (aka ISIS or ISIL), Canada’s elite special forces units trained Kurdish militia, and a Canadian field hospital was deployed near Erbil to essentially treat Kurdish fighters wounded in the battle against Daesh.
Seven months ago the U.S.-led coalition defeated the last of the Daesh extremists in the rubble that was once the city of Mosul. And that is when things went horribly, but predictably, wrong: The hodgepodge coalition forces began fighting among themselves.
The Kurdish fighters trained by Canadians now found themselves fighting against units loyal to the central Iraqi government in Baghdad, the same Iraqi government Canada’s foreign policy purports to support.
At the height of the offensive against Daesh in Mosul, Canada had announced that it would be arming the Kurdish militia with heavy weapons. Naturally enough, that did not sit well with the regime in Baghdad, which knew all too well that once Daesh was done and dusted, Kurds would start fighting government forces.
On behalf of all Canadians, Bezan wants Sajjan to tell us where these muddled plans are now.
After the Kurds began fighting Iraqi government troops and Shiite militia, it was announced that our Canadian special forces troops were suspending their role as direct mentors to the Kurdish fighters.
This means that Canada’s elite commandos are currently deployed in a violently disputed area with a suspended mission, essentially leaving them in limbo. Like Bezan, I think Sajjan has some serious explaining to do about what these Canadian soldiers will do next. For now, they sit.
In Canada’s heady rush to join the fight against Daesh evildoers back in 2014, somehow nobody took the time to fully analyze the complexity of the multi-factional, ongoing Iraqi conflict.
Now, there is also a question of responsibility for the future of Iraq. Canada was very much a part of the coalition to defeat Daesh, with our soldiers often far exceeding their mandated ‘advise and assist’ roles. There are numerous tales of Canadian snipers greasing Daesh fighters at extreme ranges, and Canadian fighters blowing up Daesh vehicles on the outskirts of Mosul.
However, in the aftermath of the coalition’s liberation of Mosul — Iraq’s second largest city and once home to more than 2 million inhabitants — remains an abandoned pile of rubble.
Seven months after the last of the Daesh diehards was killed, there are still an estimated 9,000 unburied bodies rotting beneath mounds of twisted metal and concrete.
Canada could not wait to be part of the fight, so should we not be just as keen to join in some sort of international reconstruction effort? It is hard to believe that, in this modern era, a major urban centre can be completely destroyed by the U.S.-led air armada assisted by international combat troops and then simply left in ruins.
If it was not the residents of Mosul — fewer than three per cent of Mosul’s displaced inhabitants have returned to the city since the fall of Daesh — then who exactly were Canadian soldiers supposed to be liberating?
Lots of questions for Sajjan indeed.