if we're serious about combating ISIS we need to acknowledge the other anti-ISIS players in the game

Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets Kurdish troops during a tour of allied operations in Iraq, May, 2015. For some reason the Kurdish Regional Government didn't make the invite list for a recent meeting of the anti-ISIS forces in Quebec City. (Jason Ransom, PMO)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets Kurdish troops during a tour of allied operations in Iraq, May, 2015. For some reason the Kurdish Regional Government didn't make the invite list for a recent meeting of the anti-ISIS forces in Quebec City. (Jason Ransom, PMO)

By Scott Taylor

Since the outset of Canada’s commitment to join the allied military campaign against ISIS in Iraq, it has been painfully evident we are completely ignorant of the complex local political landscape.

At first glance, it seemed very simple. We could see that ISIS was an evil bunch of thugs committing unspeakable crimes against humanity. We know that we are good guys, and ISIS appeared to be the embodiment of evil.

With a Canadian public war-weary after the decade-long debacle in Afghanistan, there was no way the government could sell us on actually sending our soldiers back into harm’s way. So with the determining factor being “no boots on the ground,” the decision was taken to deploy a small force of combat aircraft to Kuwait, from where they could bomb around the edges of ISIS-held territory and return for a good night’s rest in a safe haven. It was also decided that Canada would deploy a few dozen special forces personnel to train Kurdish fighters who were already battling ISIS in northern Iraq.

So far, it still seems pretty simple — except for the fact that the Kurds our soldiers are training in no way consider themselves Iraqis. The Kurds have independently controlled their own three autonomous provinces since they rose up in armed rebellion against Saddam Hussein at the end of the first Gulf War in 1991. They call their country Kurdistan and fly their own flag — the same one clearly visible on the right arm patches proudly sported by the Kurdish peshmerga under Canadian training.

When ISIS first swept into Iraq’s central Sunni Triangle in the spring of 2014, the Kurdish peshmerga launched an offensive of their own against the Iraqi military. As the Iraqi government troops fled in panic from the ISIS advance, peshmerga took advantage of their disarray and pushed south to seize control of the vital oil fields of Kirkuk. Pumping 35 per cent of all Iraq’s oil exports, Kirkuk is the economic engine set to propel Kurdistan into prosperous statehood.

Given that Kurdish separatist forces have established their own independent region in Syria, and the fact that in recent weeks the Kurdish separatist movement in Turkey has flared back into violent clashes with Turkish security forces, one could argue that Kurdistan is the linchpin in the entire ISIS-Syria-Iraq crisis.

That being the case — not to mention the fact that Canadian soldiers are directly involved in training Kurds — how is it that the Kurdish Regional Governmentwas excluded from the big anti-ISIS summit meeting held July 30 in Quebec City?

Canada was a co-host, and Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson was the senior government representative. The other official co-hosts were the United States and Iraq. In total, there were some 20 nations represented, plus officials from the European Union and the United Nations, but not a single representative from the Kurdish Regional Government.

There was also no participation on the part of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, no representatives from Iraq’s powerful Shiite militias and absolutely no candidate from Hezbollah.

While it may be an ugly truth, it is sheer folly to ignore the fact that it’s the Kurdish peshmerga, including the Kurdish Workers Party (the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Canada, the U.S. and EU), Assad’s Syrian forces (including Hezbollah volunteers who are also regarded as a terrorist organization) and Iraq’s Shiite militias led by Iranian advisers who are actually conducting the brunt of the fighting against the evil ISIS.

The central Iraq government that co-hosted the Quebec City summit is an impotent and corrupt entity. The U.S.-equipped and trained Iraqi military collapsed upon first contact with ISIS not because of a lack of skill and weaponry but due to the fact that none of them really wanted to fight and die for the corrupt regime in Baghdad.

The final chapters in this corrupt Middle East crisis haven’t even begun to be written, but at some point it will undoubtedly result in the redrawing of the existing map. When that happens, Canada will not have a place at the big boy table.

In the meantime, we are foolish to pretend that we are a major player by staging such a ridiculous farce as the anti-ISIS summit. If we don’t know the rules and we don’t know the players, we shouldn’t be in the game.