By Scott Taylor
Almost unmentioned in Canadian mainstream media is the steadily escalating tension between the U.S. and Iran. In recent days the Pentagon has deployed an additional Aircraft carrier battle group and strategic air assets to the Persian Gulf region, citing an increased albeit undefined, threat from Iran. The Americans have also taken the unusual step of withdrawing all unnecessary personnel from their massive embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.
This has prompted the German Defence Ministry to suspend their training mission in Iraq. There were approximately 160 German military personnel assigned to that mission.
Canada has decided to go in the opposite direction by extending our military commitment to Iraq until March 2021. Between the approximately 250 Canadians assigned to the NATO training mission, and Special Forces personnel still assisting Iraqi forces in northern Iraq, Canada has an authorized strength of up to 850 personnel in theatre.
Despite the best efforts of the Canadian Armed Forces Public Affairs branch to promote this ongoing commitment, the Iraq mission has become a forgotten front. The threat of Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) has almost been completely stamped out, and mercifully, Canada has only suffered one friendly fire fatality since first deploying troops to Iraq in 2014.
A year ago Canada agreed to take command of the NATO led training mission in Iraq because the Liberal government knew they could not sell the Canadian Public on sending troops back into the Afghanistan war. That is where the NATO leaders wanted us, which seems an incredibly ironic twist in that we originally agreed to go into Afghanistan because it was not Iraq. But I digress.
The problem with the current NATO plan for Iraq – no matter how masterfully it is commanded by Canadians – is that it is doomed to fail. The root causes of the ongoing violent strife in Iraq – devastated infrastructure, rampant unemployment, inter-factional hatred and the resultant failed economy – will not be rectified by training thousands of more young Iraqi males how to kill.
Did we learn nothing from our failed decade long involvement in Afghanistan?
In the bitter fighting which pitted the U.S. led coalition, (including Canadian Special Forces operatives), against the Daesh stronghold of Mosul, that entire city was reduced to rubble. The Iraqi government estimated it will need US$88 billion to rebuild the basic infrastructure yet a mere US$30 billion has been pledged to date by international donors. No one can guess where they will make up the US$58 billion shortfall, but in the meantime Canada will spend more than $400 million a year having our best soldiers teach Iraqi youth how to keep destroying and killing.
For the record, the Iraqi regime in Baghdad recently sought to ban violent video games to prevent their youth from becoming de-sensitized to violence. On the flip side, Canada is leading a mission to teach Iraqi youth how to use real weapons.
Canada’s tenuous grasp of the complex Iraqi equation was perhaps best illustrated back in 2014 when our military trainers first deployed to northern Iraq. A senior level decision was made to allow our soldiers to wear the green, white, and red, with a yellow sunburst flag of Kurdistan on their desert camouflage uniforms. First of all, such a splash of colour defeats the premise of camouflage, but more importantly, Kurdistan is not a recognized independent country. It is rather, the desired end state for the separatist Kurds, whose quest for statehood runs counter to Canada’s official policy of supporting a single unified Iraq.
As everyone familiar with the region predicted, once Daesh was gone, the Iraqi factions began fighting among themselves. Canadian trained Kurdish militia did in fact clash with the central government Iraqi forces that are supported by the Canadian government. Needless to say, the Canadian advisors quietly removed the Kurdistan flags from their combat uniforms.
Now that the U.S. is threatening to widen this conflict by engaging Iran, Canada should admit that this would change the existing parameters. We should follow the lead of Germany, and those non-essential U.S. embassy staff, and remove our personnel from harm’s way. Canadian troops do not shy away from a fight, but no one in their right mind simply jumps into a wood chipper for the hell of it.
The silver lining in this entire brinksmanship between the U.S. and Iran threatening imminent Armageddon is that the price of oil has risen to nearly US$65 a barrel.