Opinion

Canada needs to either pick a side or get itself out of Iraq

Iraqi Security Forces are an ‘unholy alliance’ with splintered post-Daesh goals.

A peshmerga soldier searches for signs of improvised explosive devices during training in Bnaslawa, Iraq, Nov. 29, 2016. Canadian trainers have been advising, assisting, and fighting alongside Kurdish peshmerga militia members since 2014, says Scott Taylor.Sgt. Lisa Soy photograph courtesy of the U.S. Army.

PUBLISHED :Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 12:00 AM

OTTAWA—Last week there was a brief news release from National Defence entitled “Canadian Armed Forces now Advising, Assisting Iraqis near Hawija.” It garnered little media attention, as it seemed like a simple relocation of Canadian troops following the U.S.-led alliance’s successful capture of the city of Mosul earlier this summer.

Canadian soldiers are still battling Daesh (also known as ISIS, Islamic State, and ISIL)—albeit it is not officially called combat—but now we are taking the fight to them in their last stronghold in the town of Hawija.

The DND news release deliberately blurs the complexity of the Iraq conflict by generically stating that we are continuing to support “Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).”

This falsely implies that the ISF is one big happy family, when in fact it is an unholy alliance of diverse factions, each with its own very divergent objective in a post-Daesh Iraq.

  

The closest the news release comes to stating the truth is in one vague sentence: “The CAF has continued to shift its contribution to ISF elements involved in ridding other Iraqi centres of Daesh’s control.” What is not said is that by shifting our support between elements of the ISF, we are in fact switching sides prior to the next round of fighting in Iraq’s multi-sided civil war.

Since 2014, when they first deployed, Canadian special forces trainers have been advising, assisting, and fighting alongside Kurdish peshmerga militia members.

These Kurds have enjoyed absolute autonomy from Iraq since the end of the first Gulf War in 1991. They call the region Kurdistan and have proudly flown the Kurdish flag over their cities and towns for the past 26 years.

The peshmerga also wear that bright red, white, and green flag with a yellow sunburst on their camouflage uniforms even though such a bright patch defeats the purpose of wearing camouflage.

  

Instead of instructing the Kurds to remove the tactical hazards, Canadian soldiers must have thought they looked cool and our general officers misguidedly gave them official permission to wear the flag of Kurdistan on Canadian uniforms.

I say misguidedly because Kurdistan is not recognized as an independent state and Canada’s official foreign policy supports a unified post-Daesh Iraq under a central Baghdad authority.

The future status of the Kurdish region is the battle line for the next round of clashes in this war-weary country.

In the upcoming fight against Daesh in Hawija, the Kurds have already opted out of the fighting, hence Canada’s “shift” to other elements of the ISF.

  

Instead, the Kurds are digging in and preparing to repel any other Iraqi factions from entering the territory that they now control. That territory just happens to include the city of Kirkuk and the oilfields of Baba Gurgur.

This rich resource was seized by the Kurds back in 2014 as Daesh swarmed through central Iraq. While the ISF fled from Daesh, the Kurds took advantage of the chaos to push their peshmerga south to seize Kirkuk.

Those oil fields pump approximately 40 per cent of Iraq’s total output and are seen as the economic engine necessary to support an independent Kurdistan. The problem is that Kirkuk was never a Kurdish city. It has always been known throughout Iraq as a Turkmen centre with an Arab minority.

The Turkish-speaking Turkmen are Iraq’s third largest ethnic minority—behind Arabs and Kurds—but they rarely warrant even a passing reference in mainstream media reports.

Furthermore, Baghdad has made it clear that it will not simply relinquish such a vast economic resource to the Kurds.

Despite tremendous pressure from the Iraqi government (which rejects its legality), neighbouring Iran, Turkey, and even the U.S., Kurdish Regional President Masoud Barzani proceeded to stage his independence referendum on Sept. 25.

While considered non-binding, a “yes” result was not in doubt. Now all that remains to be seen is just how much Kurdish independence will ignite within Iraq and how far it will extend into the Kurd-populated neighbouring countries of Iran, Turkey, and Syria.

The Canadian soldiers were advised by the Americans last May to gently remove the flag of Kurdistan from their sleeves. However, we still have trainers advising, assisting, and fighting alongside both the Kurds and the central Iraqi Security Forces.

Before they end up fighting each other, Canada needs to pick a side or, better yet, get the hell out of Iraq. Daesh is finished there, so our work is done.

Scott Taylor is editor and publisher of Esprit de Corps magazine.

The Hill Times