By Scott Taylor
In the wake of Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron’s death and the wounding of three other Canadian soldiers in the March 6 friendly-fire incident, one would have hoped the debate about the possible extension of Canada’s military commitment to Iraq would intensify.
However, instead of trying to gain a better grasp of the complex equation the crisis in Iraq presents, we have been caught up in such petty details as the distance Doiron’s patrol was from the front line at the time of the tragedy, and what defines combat in a non-combat role.
For opposition politicians, the primary attack point is that members of Parliament voted and approved the government’s proposed mission last October, which clearly specified our personnel would have a training role.
After it was revealed that our special forces in northern Iraq had come under fire on a number of occasions — well before the friendly-fire incident — the military and Conservative government claimed that the mission had “evolved” since the fall.
Of course, no one thought to tell Canadians about this evolution, even though the Canadian military has been diligently holding weekly technical briefings for the media since our soldiers first deployed to Iraq.
Rather than get caught up separating the pepper from the fly crap, let’s examine the bigger picture.
Last spring, ISIS burst onto the scene, quickly defeating the American-equipped Iraqi government security forces. Within weeks, ISIS had captured a vast swath of territory in Iraq and Syria, proclaiming their own Islamic caliphate. Videos of the beheading of captured western journalists and prisoners proved just how evil ISIS is.
In an effort to combat and contain the spread of this evil, Canada joined a U.S.-led alliance with a six-month provision of six CF-18 fighter jets, two Aurora patrol aircraft, one CC-150 Polaris air-to-air refueller, plus up to 69 special forces trainers. The roughly 600-member Air Force contingent has been stationed in Kuwait, while our soldier-trainers are based in the city of Erbil.
So far, so good. Good guys deploy to fight bad guys. The problem starts with the fact that our soldiers are not in Iraq — they are in Kurdistan. The flag emblem worn on the sleeves of the peshmerga militia being trained by the Canadians consists of red, white and green stripes with a yellow sunburst in the centre. This is the flag of Kurdistan, not the Iraqi flag, which now consists of three horizontal stripes of red, white and black with the inscription in Kufic script “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) arranged horizontally in the centre of the white stripe.
This is not a petty point, as the Kurds have been autonomous from the central Baghdad authority since the end of the first Persian Gulf War in 1991.
Furthermore, it was these same Kurdish peshmerga who took advantage of the ISIS crisis last spring to push south and seize the vital oilfields of Kirkuk from the demoralized Iraqi security forces. Now that they possess a third of Iraq’s vast oil resources, they have no intention of ever assimilating again.
At the core of the ISIS forces are fanatical Sunni Arabs. The territory ISIS seized and now controls became known as the Sunni Triangle during the bloody U.S. occupation. To the south of this territory lies Baghdad, with its relatively impotent regime under interim Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
When the Iraqi security forces dissolved through demoralization last year, al-Abadi called out the private militia of the Shiite Arab majority. Armed and equipped by Iranian military advisers, the Shiite militia successfully stopped the ISIS encroachment toward Baghdad.
Just last week, this Iranian-led force battled its way into the Sunni stronghold of Tikrit in the first major sustained counteroffensive against ISIS. Canada, of course, cannot heap praise upon the Iranians for this achievement because we have repeatedly demonized the Tehran regime as evil. In fact, the Canadian military made it clear that our aircraft would in no way be bombing in support of the anti-ISIS attack into Tikrit.
Iran is, of course, also assisting embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the fight against the ISIS threat in his country, as are Hezbollah Shiite fighters now in Syria, who believe they are fighting a holy war against the Sunni extremists.
So before the Canadian government decides to extend a mission to keep our soldiers in harm’s way, let’s establish a clear objective by which we can define victory.
Eliminating ISIS in Iraq will leave a weak central government in Baghdad that is completely under the influence of Iran. Likewise, the elimination of ISIS will strengthen the position of Assad in Syria. We are also pouring weapons and training into a Kurdish security force that sees itself as the vanguard of creating a greater Kurdistan. This would require the secession of territory from Iran, Syria, Armenia and, of course, NATO member Turkey.
Iraq is a huge, complicated mess, and not one of Canada’s creation. If we really want to fight ISIS, we should look at combating them in Libya. We led the NATO mission that ousted Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, and the country is now a failed state in which ISIS is gaining an ever-stronger foothold.
It is senseless to continue sending troops to fight a war in Iraq wherein there is no desirable outcome in the foreseeable future.