By Scott Taylor
Last Thursday, Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, told reporters that there had a been a major shift in terms of our military commitment in Iraq. At an undisclosed point in time, our Special Forces operatives stopped training Kurdish Peshmerga militia and began assisting Iraqi government troops. As Vance put it, “We have changed … partners.”
Given that our soldiers — up to 200 of them — are deployed in what remains a very volatile, complex conflict zone, one might have thought that such a major operational shift might have warranted a full press briefing as opposed to some off-the-cuff responses to reporters’ questions.
Switching sides in a burgeoning foreign civil war is a pretty big deal.
To recap for those who may have lost track of the bouncing ball, Canada first sent our elite Special Forces operatives into northern Iraq in 2014. At that juncture, Daesh (a.k.a. ISIS or ISIL) had captured a huge swath of central Iraq known as the Sunni Triangle, the Iraqi government forces had dissolved, and the Baghdad regime had called on the U.S. and Iran to help bail them out.
In the north, the Kurdish militia were battling Daesh and also seeking to establish their own independent state. To defend Baghdad from the Daesh Sunni Muslim extremists, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi mobilized the Shiite militia, many of them being Shiite extremists, and bolstered them with Iranian military advisors. Such was the hodgepodge of disparate groups opposing Daesh in a loose alliance that Canada found itself on the same team as Iran, Russia, Syrian President Bashar al–Assad and the terrorist group Hezbollah.
Canada’s official policy from Global Affairs Canada was that we supported a future unified Iraq under a single central government in Baghdad.
On the ground, however, our Special Forces guys got a little caught up in the moment and someone at National Defence Headquarters foolishly authorized our soldiers to put flags of Kurdistan on their Canadian combat uniforms.
Now there is no question that the Kurdish trainees were ever deceitful in any way. They have always stated that they were fighting for Kurdistan, they flew the flag of Kurdistan and they, of course, wore the bright red, white and green with yellow sunburst flag of Kurdistan on their own uniforms.
Canadian military officials explained that by wearing the Kurdistan flag on their Canadian uniforms they were better able to bond with Kurdish trainees. The problem was that Kurdistan does not exist as a recognized state, and as a symbol of a separatist faction those flags ran completely counter to Canada’s foreign policy toward a unified Iraq.
In January 2017, at the height of the battle to crush Daesh, Canada pledged to send $9.5 million worth of weapons to the Kurds. That was when Baghdad officials said “not so fast,” as they fully understood that once Daesh was eliminated, those weapons in Kurdish hands would be turned on Iraqi government forces.
In the end, the weapons were never delivered and, after a referendum last September, Kurdish leader Masood Barzani made a declaration of independence for Kurdistan.
There were brief clashes with Iraqi government troops, who successfully recaptured the vital, oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and Barzani was forced to rescind and resign.
Meanwhile, Canadian troops had quietly removed the flag of Kurdistan from their uniforms, and now we learn from Gen. Vance that we are training troops loyal to the government in Baghdad.
Following the parliamentary elections in Iraq held last month, once the dust has settled and a coalition is cobbled together, that new Iraqi government will be headed by none other than Shiite cleric and former warlord Muqtada al-Sadr.
In 2004, al-Sadr unleashed his militia against the U.S. occupiers and was considered to be public enemy number one by American troops.
To taunt the U.S. soldiers, al-Sadr put up billboards with his image on them, and in English the phrase “All men belong to me.”
Now, Canadian soldiers are employed training troops who will be loyal to this guy?
It is high time to get Canada out of Iraq before our good intentions do any more harm to the region.
We cannot focus solely on the bad guys we are fighting against. We need to fully assess the bad guys we are fighting for as well.