“What happened there is, first of all, something to be celebrated for the excellence of the Canadian Forces in their training, in the performance of their duties.” This celebration which Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was speaking of on July 27th, 2017 was a sniper shot taken by a Canadian soldier in Iraq earlier in June, which killed a Daesh (also known as ISIS) fighter. Firstly, Trudeau quickly came under fire for the callous glorifying of the death of another human being which, no matter who it is, by the standards of common decency is not a matter of celebration. This aside, the sniper kill shot brought into question, just how “non-combat” is Canada’s role in Iraq? After all, the Trudeau government claims that the Canadian military is in Iraq on an “advise and assist” mandate and is “non-combat”. One must ask, would we have even heard about Canadian snipers if not for the fact that this particular sniper shot broke a world record for killing someone at a distance by the barrel of a gun, thereby giving the government of Canada bragging rights?
What has Canada been doing in Iraq anyways?
Canada's “Operation IMPACT” began on September 4th, 2014, with the stated aim of fighting Daesh. Justin Trudeau ran his 2015 election campaign with the promise to end Canada’s combat mission in Iraq, specifically to pull out the six CF-18 Hornet fighter jets from Iraq. While Trudeau removed the fighter jets and declared the combat mission over, his “advise and assist” mission just looks like a new name for combat. Trudeau tripled the number of Special Forces military trainers in Iraq to 210, has deployed four CH-146 Griffon helicopters, an aerial refueller which continues to provide fuel to other coalition aircraft, and a surveillance aircraft which continues 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!
Under the Trudeau government, the rules of engagement were also defined to allow Canadian troops to fire first on Daesh fighters, if they detect hostile intent, to protect themselves, civilians or Iraqi forces. Considering that by the Canadian Armed Forces statistics, about 20% of training missions take place close to or directly at the front lines, you can imagine Canadian soldiers are in combat situations fairly regularly!
Canada in Iraq – Extended and Expanded
On Thursday June 29, the Government of Canada announced that it is extending military operations in Iraq for two more years, to March 31, 2019. This decision was taken after Parliament had adjourned for the summer, meaning there was no vote or debate in the House of Commons for this extension. Of course, taxpayers who are footing the $371.4 million bill for this extension definitely had no say in this decision!
Although this extended military intervention in Iraq is still claimed to be non-combat, the Government of Canada has expanded the troop deployment to 850 Canadian Armed Forces members, and how they will be deployed is not yet disclosed. In addition to the helicopters and surveillance and refueling aircraft already in Iraq, Canada is adding a C-130J Hercules aircraft and is expanding the authority of Canadian troops to “assist new partners within the Iraqi security forces” beyond previously mainly Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq. Canada’s Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan left open the possibility of ramping up Canada’s intervention in Iraq, by saying the military would “deploy capabilities as needed”.
Canada’s bloody track record
As two more years of Canada’s military in Iraq has been announced, what has the last 14 years of war and occupation brought to Iraq? Make no mistake, although the government of Canada claimed to not be participating in the US-led war and occupation for years, Canada has had an active role in the war on Iraq from the beginning. The former US Ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, summed up this little-known fact on March 27, 2003 by saying, “Ironically, the Canadians indirectly provide more support for us in Iraq than most of those 46 countries that are fully supporting us.” Canada’s longstanding hidden role in Iraq included the Canadian Navy, surveillance and transport aircraft, military planners and other quiet means of supporting a war. Even 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 in 2004.
It is not only the last 14 years of war in Iraq we have to look at to see what increased war and occupation will bring. Canada has a dismal track record in Afghanistan, where the Canadian military played a large role for 13 years, at times with the third highest number of troops deployed after the US and Britain. The Canadian military commanded regional operations for NATO’s ISAF force in Afghanistan, as well as from February to August 2004 held command of the entire NATO ISAF force.
While Canada entered the war in Afghanistan with false promises of “promoting democracy” and “liberating women”, they accomplished neither and left Afghanistan in shambles. Women’s health care remains particularly poor, with the maternal mortality rate still one of the highest in the world. As in Iraq, many women have been forced into prostitution as a means to keep their families alive. Suicide has been on the rise particularly for women, and often by self-immolation. In a January 2017 report by the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan, citing a BBC interview, 700 suicide attempts within 8 months were documented in one hospital in Herat province in Afghanistan, 70% of which were women.
In 2016, Transparency International ranked Afghanistan the third most corrupt country in the world, at 166 out of 168 countries. Canada is far from innocent, and has its hand in this matter too. One example is from Canadian contractor SNC Lavalin, which came under fire for their questionable use of taxpayer dollars on the construction of the Dahla Dam, a $50 million project plagued with engineering problems. It was revealed that SNC Lavalin hired the Watan Group as security for the project – a company which had been blacklisted for its ties to warlords.
Canada was also a major player in the 2011 NATO imposed no-fly zone in Libya. Canada deployed six CF-18 fighter jets for the bombing of Libya, and also provided three planes for air-to-air refuelling and two reconnaissance aircrafts. Over seven months of bombing indiscriminately destroyed cities and demolished the engineering feat that was Libya’s water supply infrastructure. Six years later Libya, a country that once had the highest standard of living in Africa, now is in a chaos with no viable government and a new haven for terrorist organizations such as Daesh.
Not to be left out of new expanding fronts of imperialist aggression, Canada is also taking a lead on NATO’s military bolstering and provocation against Russia. Just last month Canadian soldiers started arriving in Latvia, where the Canadian military is leading a battle group on the Russian border comprised of 450 Canadian soldiers along with troops from five other NATO countries.
While this has been Canada’s military expansion to date, where is it going from here? The Liberal government’s recently announced defense policy promises more than $62 billion for new military spending over the next 20 years. Part of the Government of Canada’s military planning is to add 600 more troops to the ranks of the Special Forces, a section of the Canadian military which most notably are deployed in Iraq. Who are the Special Forces which are now increasing? In 2010 the Globe and Mail described the Joint Task Force 2, which are a part of the Special Forces, 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 fact is the Government of Canada is not putting increased spending into the military and bolstering troop numbers for no purpose. The purpose is increased military actions, and a greater role in the expanding new era of war and occupation we are faced with today.
Canadian Weapons Exports – going where the Canadian military can’t
The Government of Canada isn’t only positioning itself as a major military power – it is also supplying other militaries around the world with weapons of death and destruction. A recently released federal report by Global Affairs Canada put the total value of military goods sold abroad to countries other than the US at nearly $718 million in 2016. Although the report is exempt from listing arms exports to the US, as a general rule, shipments to the US account for nearly 50% of all military exports from Canada.
A point which has drawn controversy is that Saudi Arabia is the top destination for Canadian made weapons after the US. Saudi Arabia purchased $142 million worth of Canadian arms in 2016. This is not including Canada’s $15 billion sale of so-called “light” armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia, which are heavily weaponized and anything but light!
Although Canada’s own arms export guidelines stipulate that arms not be exported to countries with known human rights violations, the government of Canada goes to great lengths to overlook the human rights violations of its top customers. Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations could take up a lengthy article itself, but to name a few points, the kind of LAVs which Canada is selling to Saudi Arabia are reported to have been used against protesters both in Saudi Arabia, and in neighbouring Bahrain against pro-democracy protesters in 2011. The government of Canada doesn’t deny that the LAVs used in Bahrain were Canadian made, and merely say they don’t believe they were used to combat protests. Furthermore, one of Saudi Arabia’s most heinous crimes is over two years of a continuing war against Yemen. Near daily bombing by the Saudi-led, US-backed coalition and a land, air and sea blockade have created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today.
Whether conservative or liberal, the Canadian ruling class has been positioning itself as a military power, at the expense of oppressed nations around the world. As the recent reports discussed in this article indicate, this is only set to increase with more military spending, more troops and more weapons to bolster Canada’s military, and Canada’s role as a weapons supplier to the world’s human rights violators. It is up to peace loving people to take a stand against Canadian imperialism however they spin it – “combat” “training” “advise and assist” or even “job creation in weapons manufacturing”. This all boils down to the killing of our brothers and sisters around the world, the destruction of their countries and making homelands so unlivable that we now see the worst refugee crisis in human history.
While the words above spell out an enormous amount of destruction and killing by huge imperialist forces, this is coming against the forces of the majority, of people who will not give up their desire for self-determination and for a world without war and occupation. Around the world and here in Canada, we must build a stronger, united and effective antiwar movement to struggle for peace, justice and a better world!
No to war and occupation! Yes to self-determination!
Canada/US Out of Iraq Now!
Follow Janine on Twitter: @janinesolanki
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