By Scott Taylor
It was reported last week that a weapons cache valued at over $10 million is sitting in limbo in a Montreal warehouse. This arsenal includes .50 caliber sniper rifles equipped with silencers, 60mm mortars, Carl Gustav anti-tank rocket launchers, pistols, carbines, thermal binoculars, cameras, scopes and medical supplies.
The intended recipients of this sophisticated, lethal hardware was the Kurdish militia in northern Iraq. At the time that Prime Minister Trudeau pledged to provide this weaponry – February 2016 – the Kurdish militia were battling Daesh (aka ISIS or ISIL) with assistance of Canadian Special Forces advisors.
So far, so good. Canadian troops were training Kurdish fighters, and to assist them in the fight, Canada scrounges up $10 million worth of high-tech weapons. The lethal aid package was assembled at the Canadian Forces’ supply depot in Montreal, but that was as far as it got. Before flights could be arranged to transport this arsenal to the Kurds, Canadian officials got a sudden lesson in the Middle East complexities.
The Iraqi government in Baghdad got wind of the weapon shipment and ordered it halted. While Canadian trained Kurds were fighting the common enemy in Daesh, they were also openly fighting to establish an independent state of Kurdistan.
On Canadian maps, the city of Erbil is in northern Iraq, but when our military trainers arrived there, the sign at the airport boldly proclaimed “Welcome to Kurdistan”. The flags flying atop every official building and military outpost was the red, green and white stripes with a central yellow sunburst, aka the flag of Kurdistan.
This same symbol of Kurdistan was worn as a Velcro patch on the combat uniforms of all the Kurdish militia which the Canadians were training. Despite the fact that these very colourful patches defeat the concept of camouflage in a tactical situation, our Special Forces troops soon added the flag of Kurdistan patches to their own uniforms.
The decision to allow Canadian soldiers to adorn their uniforms with this symbol was taken at the highest level and clearly illustrates just how naïve our commanders were at the time.
Given the complexity of ethnic and religious divisions in northern Iraq, this would be akin to a law enforcement agency having its officials wear a biker gang’s colours in the middle of an urban turf war.
Even if our troops wanted to bond better with their Kurdish trainees, the wearing of a symbol depicting a non-recognized, separatist entity should have never been considered.
More importantly, the official policy of Canada’s Global Affairs department was, and remains that of supporting a unified Iraq in a post-Daesh era.
Knowing that the Kurdish militia would eventually turn their guns on the Iraqi Army, the Baghdad regime said ‘no dice’ to Canada providing the Kurds with all of that sophisticated weaponry. That prediction became a reality in the fall of 2017, when Kurdish leader Masood Barzani announced his intention to declare independence. The Iraqi Army clashed briefly with the Canadian trained Kurds and successfully recaptured the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
Since that juncture, Canadian Special Forces operatives have remained in Iraq, but they have removed their Kurdistan patches and ceased their direct assistance to the Kurdish separatist forces.
It should be noted that Baghdad was not the only voice which objected to Canada providing weapons too the Kurds. Turkey – a vital NATO ally, also expressed concern due to the on-going three decade long, armed Kurdish separatist insurrection in their eastern provinces. Since 1978, this conflict has claimed the lives of over 30,000 people, including over 8,200 Turkish security personnel.
At the time of the official announcement, the Trudeau government said they would exercise controls to prevent the Canadian- provided weapons from falling into the wrong hands. Anyone familiar with the ebb and flow of loyalties and alliances in this region knows such a claim of controlling weapons after delivery was also hopelessly naïve.
The good news is that but for a few fanatical holdouts, Daesh is defeated in both Iraq and Syria. This scourge of evil-doers temporarily brought together an unholy alliance that included Kurdish separatists, Iraqi Shiite militia, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Putin’s bad old Russians, Bashar al-Assad’s murderous henchmen, his Hezbollah allies, the U.S. and of course Canada.
Now that the unifier has been eliminated, Canada should follow Trump’s lead and get our troops out of there. We have no skin in the game, and we will definitely not have a seat at the big boy table when an eventual resolution is drawn up.
Our policy makers have already illustrated their ignorance of this complex conflict in authorizing our soldiers to wear the Kurdistan flag.
Thank goodness we did not actually compound that error by pouring in another $10 million of weaponry to add to the endless killing. Simply put, if you don’t know the players, you have no place being in the game. Bring our troops home.