On September 21, 2017, the Liberal government announced that Canadian Forces in Iraq would be shifting their focus from the offensive in Mosul, to the next offensive in Hawija, on the pretext of fighting Daesh (also known as ISIS). Besides news of Hawija being a “major focus” for the Canadian military, the government of Canada has not given a number for how many Canadian soldiers would be involved. Canada has up to 850 soldiers in Iraq, 200 of which are special forces. What we do know is that a policy of vagueness is in place. Major General Mike Rouleau, head of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command said that the troops “won't be in the vanguard” but doesn't specify just where the unknown number of Canadian soldiers in the Hawija offensive will be. Canada's Defense Minister, Harjit Sajjan, already left ample room for escalating Canada's war drive in Iraq, with his statements on June 29th, 2017. Sajjan said the military would “deploy capabilities as needed” with the justification that “coalition allies and partners must remain flexible and adapt to changing threats”.
Where is the money going?
Money is one of the few things we can put a number to in Canada's military intervention in Iraq. On June 29, 2017 Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan announced that Canada would be extending its military mission in Iraq to March 31, 2019. The price tag for this extension is $371.4 million over two years. Add to that the $2 billion over the course of three years (2016-19) to address “security, stabilization, humanitarian and development challenges stemming from the crises in Iraq and Syria.” Again, we don't know exactly where all this money is going but we can be sure that it is going to war instead of going to housing, healthcare and education needs in Canada!''
Who are Canada's Special Forces and what are they doing in Iraq?
In 2010 the Globe and Mail described the Special Forces 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.” The government of Canada is relying more and more on these “faceless soldiers” for their imperialist interventions, and in July announced plans to add 600 more soldiers to the Special Forces.
The “train and assist” role that we are told the Special Forces are doing in Iraq has convenient “rules of engagement” that allow the soldiers to shoot first if they detect “hostile intent”. In 2015 a Canadian Forces briefing revealed that about 20% of their “advise and assist” training takes place near or at front lines, where you can imagine using the shoot first policy would be a common occurrence. Note that this 20% statistic is before Canadian troops were focused on the pitched battlegrounds of Mosul and Hawija.
Canadian Air Force still in Iraqi skies
While Justin Trudeau tried to win election promise points by ending Canada's use of fighter jets in Iraq, that doesn't mean the Canadian Air Force isn't still operating in Iraq. Canada's aerial refueller continues to provide fuel to other coalition aircraft. Two surveillance aircraft continue to “contribute to coalition intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities”. Four tactical CH-146 Griffon helicopters and a tactical airlift detachment are also deployed in Iraq. While Canadian fighter jets may not be dropping bombs in Iraq, Canada's Air Force is doing the work to ensure the fighter jets of other countries can launch airstrikes!
What about all the other soldiers?
After the 200 Special Forces and the unknown number of troops and personnel with the Air Force, what are all the other Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members doing? Not to be overlooked, according to the Canadian Forces Operation IMPACT website, “CAF members serve in key positions in Coalition headquarters around the Middle East. They have high-demand skills in planning and carrying out military operations.” “The CAF members are experts in areas such as: intelligence operations; targeting; command and control”. One example of what this means – since March 2016, Canadian Brigadier-General David Anderson commanded the “Global Coalition’s Ministerial Liaison Team” which was involved in the preparation and execution of the military offensive in Mosul and northwestern Iraq. In July 2017, Canadian Brigadier-General Steven Whelan took over this leading role. While Justin Trudeau claims this isn't a combat mission, top Canadian generals are in charge of planning combat operations!
Unanswered questions on exchange soldiers
The question of Canadian troops engaged in combat operations gets even stickier when you consider the 104 Canadian militarily members on exchange programs with other countries. On July 12, 2017, CBC broke a story on the shady details of these exchange programs. Documents show that 66 of the 104 Canadian soldiers are embedded with the US military, and that in 2015 several Canadian fighter pilots engaged in combat against Daesh, while embedded with an unidentified country's military. However Canada's National Defense is refusing to say how many of these soldiers are involved in combat operations, and where they are stationed.
Iraq: Over 14 years of war and occupation
What all of this amounts to is continued war and occupation in Iraq. Whether under the pretext of a “weapons of mass destruction” which never existed, a “war on terror” that is a war OF terror, or the fight against Daesh, Iraq has suffered greatly under 14 years of US-led war and occupation. While “fighting Daesh” might make good war propaganda, one has to ask, how is it that Daesh only came into existence after the US started funding and arming so-called “moderate rebels” and foreign mercenaries in Syria, and after years of destabilization and sectarianism fueled by the US war and occupation in Iraq. Whether Daesh was directly or indirectly created by the US, the fact is Daesh is a convenient excuse for the US and their imperialist allies to continue waging war in Iraq, as well as in Syria.
Looking at just a few health and education indicators, war has devastated these standards of living in Iraq. The World Health Organization has estimated that 70 percent of Iraqis lack access to clean water and 80 percent lack proper sanitation. Prior to the US-led war, Iraq was well-known for having high attendance in schools, while in 2016 UNICEF reported nearly 3.5 million school-aged children in Iraq attend school irregularly, or not at all. And perhaps the most telling indicator of the effects of war on Iraq is that Iraq refugees are part of what is today the largest refugee crisis humanity has ever seen, simply because war has made their homeland unlivable.
If the shoe fits…
Whatever Justin Trudeau or Harjit Sajjan want to call it, combat or not, Canadian troops do not belong in Iraq, nor do the troops of any foreign imperialist country. It is our tax dollars being spent on war and occupation, and it is the government we live under that is sending military forces to wage war on our brothers and sisters in Iraq. The way forward for Iraq is with self-determination, and it is up to peace-loving people in Canada and around the world to take up our human responsibility to demand self-determination for people of Iraq and an end to war and occupation in Iraq.
Follow Janine Solanki on Twitter: @janinesolanki
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