“It will be dangerous. It will be clear that on occasion to defend ourselves or defend those who we are with, we will have to fight” - Canadian Chief of Defense Staff General Jonathan Vance
For those who thought that Canada's recent combat mission in Iraq is over and Canadian troops have been relegated to a milder, friendlier sounding “train, advise and assist” mission, don't be mistaken on the timing of the quote above. The comments by Canada's top general were not in reference to Canada's combat mission in Iraq under the government of Stephen Harper, rather they were made on February 19, 2016. That is, four days after Canada's fighter jets ceased their airstrikes in Iraq, ending Canada's combat mission as determined by the new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. So if Canada's combat mission in Iraq is over, why is the new “train, advise and assist” mission so dangerous, and why will Canadian soldiers be fighting?
Canada's War in Iraq – Conservative Style
Before we talk about Canada's “refocused” mission in Iraq, let's understand what Canada's military has been doing in Iraq under the previous Conservative government of Canada. Canada's “Operation IMPACT” began on September 4th, 2014, with the stated aim of fighting Daesh (also known as ISIS) in Iraq and Syria. Most noted, of course, was Canada's six CF-18 Hornet fighter jets, CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft and the CC-150T Polaris aerial refueller. As of March 22nd, 2016 this air force conducted 2,222 sorties, which included 1378 sorties conducted by the fighter jets, resulting in 246 airstrikes in Iraq and 5 in Syria. Canada also had 69 special-forces soldiers in northern Iraq training Kurdish troops, as well as 600 Royal Canadian Air Force personnel deployed as part of Joint Task Force-Iraq, to “work with other coalition countries to advise and assist the Iraqi government with their security forces.” In 2014 Canada's air force also delivered more than 1,600,000 pounds of military supplies to Iraq, including small arms, ammunition and other military equipment donated by countries allied to the foreign forces in Iraq.
Canada's War in Iraq – Liberal Style
Following the election of the new Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada's mission in Iraq and Syria was revised with the pretext of stopping Canadian airstrikes and continuing involvement in a “non-combat” military capacity. But is this mission really non-combat, and does non-combat operations really equal a better policy in Iraq and Syria?
While the fighter jets ceased airstrike operations as of February 15th 2016, Canada's aerial refueller continues to provide fuel to other coalition aircraft (24,000,000 pounds of fuel as of March 22nd 2016). The two surveillance aircraft continue to “contribute to coalition intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities”. So, although Canadian fighter jets may not be dropping the bombs, Canada is doing the behind-the-scenes work to enable the fighter jets of other countries to drop their bombs!
In terms of military personnel, this number has increased from 650 to 830, which includes tripling the “train, advise and assist” mission in northern Iraq from 69 to 200 special forces. While the mainstream headlines don't delve much deeper than those basic figures, let's ask a few questions. Who are these “special forces”? They are made up of the Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) counter-terrorism unit as well as the Canadian Special Operations Regiment. In 2010 the Globe and Mail described the Joint Task Force 2 as “a shadowy counterterrorism force about which little concrete can be said” and “Canada's most elite troops – the faceless soldiers who go to places they won't name, to complete missions they won’t talk about.” How about the claim that the “train, advise and assist” mission is a non-combat mission? The quote at the beginning of this article already explicitly states that the troops will be engaged in fighting. Exactly how close to the front lines these troops are was proved on March 6th, 2015 when Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron, from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, was killed in a friendly fire incident while on the training mission in northern Iraq. Further investigation brought to light that about 20% of the training mission takes place close to or directly at the front lines, which is where Doiron was killed when Canadian troops were mistaken for Daesh fighters. Furthermore, as of March 8th, 2016 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new “non-combat” military strategy authorized Canadian soldiers to shoot first in Iraq as soon as they detect “hostile intent” from Daesh fighters. So, if Canada's special forces spend 20% of their time at the front lines, where they will doubtlessly be subject to “hostile intent” and authorized to shoot, how likely is it that Canadian soldiers in Iraq will not be engaged in combat?
Then there is the question of a bit of simple mathematics. 830 Canadian military personnel in Iraq, minus 200 involved in the “train, advise and assist” mission equals 630 people whom we have very little information about what they are doing. While some of them are part of the continued air surveillance and refueling, the most concrete information to be found via the Canadian Forces Operation Impact website is that they will “support and enable the coalition and Iraqi security forces in the planning and execution of military operations” such as “intelligence operations; social media exploitation; targeting; and command and control.” That command and control is a lot more than a simple footnote. On March 14th 2016 it was announced that Canadian Brigadier-General David Anderson is to command a coalition team working with Iraq’s security ministries in Baghdad, in preparation for a military offensive against Daesh in Mosul and northwestern Iraq.
When faced with this closer inspection, Canada's role in the war in Iraq is much more than a benign training mission. It is secretive special forces on the front lines, it is keeping coalition fighter jets in the skies, it is the eyes and ears of surveillance and intelligence and it is the decision makers of how this war is conducted. Not only does all the evidence point to this in reality being a combat mission, but it's even in charge of the “command and control” of much of the combat!
There is another aspect missing from Justin Trudeau's refocused “Operation Impact”. While this Operation encompasses the war in Iraq and Syria, all we hear about is what Canada is doing in Iraq. So then, what is Canada doing in Syria? Does Canada have special operations troops in Syria? Is Canada involved in training, surveillance, intelligence or delivering arms? What are Operation Impact's plans for Syria? The simple fact is we don't know, and mainstream media is not asking these tough questions.
Canada's secret war in Iraq
"Ironically, the Canadians indirectly provide more support for us in Iraq than most of those 46 countries that are fully supporting us." - Paul Cellucci, former US Ambassador to Canada, March 27, 2003
The fact is, Canada's current participation in the war in Iraq is nothing new. What's new is only the fact that it is public information. In 2011 WikiLeaks obtained a classified US document, which shows that senior Canadian officials met with American and British diplomats on the same day that former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announced to parliament that Canada would not participant in the war on Iraq. The confidential document from this meeting notes that former Canadian Foreign Affairs official James Wright “"emphasized" that contrary to public statements by the prime minister, Canadian naval and air forces could be "discreetly" put to use during the pending U.S.-led assault on Iraq and its aftermath,” as reported in a 2011 CBC news article.
From what information can be gleaned from these secret operations, Canada's involvement in the 2003 war on Iraq was quite similar to their current participation. Canada's navy was instrumental, with about 1,300 personnel on at least five frigates and one destroyer deployed to the Persian Gulf. Canada's air force also had a role, with surveillance and transport aircraft as well as Canadian Forces members on crews on Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, which served to guide fighter jets and bombers in airstrikes. Canada also provided airspace to US war planes transporting soldiers to Iraq, which regularly stopped in Newfoundland to refuel and switch crews.
Canada also had a significant role in determining the course of the war in Iraq. In February 2003 during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, Canada transferred 25 military planners to the US military's forward command post in Qatar in the Persian Gulf. In 2004, Canadian Brigadier General Walter Natynczyk (former Canadian Chief of Defence Staff) was deputy chief of policy, strategy and planning in Iraq, with 35,000 US, British and Australian troops under his command.
Another way that Canada is truly part of the war machine, is by the production of weapons and arms. Canada was the largest foreign supplier of arms to the US for the war in Iraq. In 2004 Canadian corporation SNC-Lavalin had a 5-year contract to supply the US Army with 300-500 million bullets per year. The most recent controversy is Canada's $15 billion deal to supply Saudi Arabia with Light Armoured Vehicles, which despite the deceptive name are a full-fledged, weaponized military machine. The new Liberal government is still going forward with this deal, despite the government's own rules to curb shipments to countries with a ‘persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens.’ It is no secret that Saudi Arabia is one of the worst violates of human rights.
13 years of war in Iraq
The propaganda machines do a great job of selling the new war in Iraq as a necessary fight against Daesh. But we have 13 years of the war in Iraq to see that the US-led war has brought unimagined death and destruction to Iraq. Over 1 million Iraqis were killed as a result of the Iraq war, according to British polling group Opinion Research Business. Health indicators plummeted following the Iraq war, especially in areas where the US army used depleted uranium which has caused horrific birth defects, high cancer rates and environmental devastation. The World Health Organization has estimated that 70 percent of Iraqis lack access to clean water and 80 percent lack proper sanitation. Before the 2003 invasion, school enrollment rates were nearly 100%. By September 2006, only 30% of Iraq's 3.5 million students were enrolled in school. These statistics could go on and on, but the war in Iraq didn't only cause Iraq to have every standard of life worsen. Instability, poverty and sectarianism under US occupation fueled the rise of extremist groups such as Daesh. Now the US and their imperialist allies have a new excuse to carry on another war in Iraq. They have created their own enemy in order to bomb the country again, now in the name of fighting Daesh. While the US and their imperialist allies in Iraq claim to not hit civilian targets, in August 2015 The Guardian reported findings of 52 airstrikes in this new war in Iraq which have killed more than 450 civilians, including 100 children.
The new era of war and occupation
The new era of war and occupation, beginning with the war in Afghanistan in 2001 to now, has reduced countries to chaos and destruction to the point that they are unlivable. It is imperialist forces such as the US, Canada, Britain and their allies that have caused the world's worst refugee crisis since World War II. Refugees have made the dangerous journey to Europe from Iraq, Afghanistan Libya, Syria and Palestine – all countries which have been plagued by the imperialist wars and occupations. While Canada, the US and European countries try to shift the blame, they must take responsibility for this massive human tragedy by opening the doors to refugees and furthermore, by stopping their wars and occupations abroad, the cause for refugees to leave their homelands in the first place.
In a few pages we have given just an overview into the bloody hands the government of Canada has in Iraq, which they are experts at hiding behind words such as “training” “non-combat” and “advising”. For peace and justice loving people in Canada especially, it is our job to hold the government of Canada to account for these crimes and to demand that they end any involvement whatsoever in war and occupation.
Canada out of Iraq!
No to war and occupation!
Yes to self-determination!
Follow Janine on Twitter:@janinesolanki
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