The outgoing Canadian commander of the NATO advising and training mission in Iraq says there isn't a timeline for the mission to end. “I don't think there's urgency on the part of NATO and allies to get us out of there,” Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin told The Hill Times last week. “But there's no desire to have a long drawn-out operation.” The mission, which is part of Canada's contribution to the global fight against ISIS, serves to train Iraqi military leaders who will in turn train Iraqi security forces. The Iraqi military “collapsed” in 2014, said Justin Massie, professor of political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal, in the face of the ISIS insurgency. The NATO mission is helping solidify Iraqi military education institutions in order to ensure ISIS doesn't return to its former place of power in Iraq. The institutions range from medical schools to bomb disposal training centres. Maj.-Gen. Fortin, who began his command of the NATO mission in November 2018, transferred leadership of the mission to Canadian Maj.-Gen. Jennie Carignan on Nov. 26. Denmark has offered to replace Canada's command of the mission when Maj.-Gen. Carignan wraps up next November. In total, the Canadian military is supplying 850 soldiers for the global fight against ISIS. Up to 250 of which serve as part of the NATO mission. University of Ottawa professor Thomas Juneau, a Middle East expert and former DND analyst, said the success of capacity-building operations like the NATO mission in Iraq is hard to measure, but he added that the mission is making “slow progress.” Large-scale protests in Iraq have resulted in the deaths of more than 400, as the Iraqi security forces have used lethal forces to quell the rising anti-government anger. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons “As much as you can have technical solutions to help the Iraqi military, ultimately, progress depends on the political context in Iraq. So you can make small progress, but then if the political process in Iraq collapses or changes direction, all of the small technical steps that you've done can go down the drain,” Prof. Juneau said. Iraq is in the midst of large-scale protests over government corruption, unemployment, and the influence of Iran over the country, which has led Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to announce his resignation. Since Dec. 5, more than 400 people have been killed and around 20, 000 have been wounded. Since Dec. 5, more than 400 people have been killed and around 20,000 wounded, as Iraqi Security Forces have used lethal force to quell the rising anti-government anger. Although, some critics have raised concern over the Canadian military training the same Iraqi Security Force that are using lethal force to quell the protest, Maj.-Gen. Fortin said those forces suppressing the protest aren't the same forces that they are training, which are, largely, the troops under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi Ministry of Defence. He said the Iraqi security forces are “groups of groups,” with those quelling the protests "mostly" being Ministry of Interior and police forces opposed to Ministry of Defence forces who are focused on fighting ISIS, securing Iraqi infrastructure, and supporting security forces, but not interacting with the population directly. The protests create a lot of uncertainty, Prof. Juneau said. “By no means is that a reason to stop. If anything that means that NATO and the international community as whole have to double down in terms of helping Iraq stand up against the Islamic State against the many problems that it faces. It just means that it's a highly uncertain and difficult process,” he said. Prof. Juneau added that it's important not to tie the fate of ISIS to the success or failure of the NATO mission. “Not that the mission has no impact,” but, he added, “the fate of ISIS at a strategic level will be determined by what goes on in Syria and what goes in Iraq at a very political level and that's independent of the mission.” Prof. Juneau said ISIS is “far from dead” and still quite strong even though it is no longer occupying territory in Iraq. “Daesh is still present,” Maj.-Gen. Fortin said. “Daesh still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq. They've gone underground. They've gone back to guerrilla roots. They no longer have the ability to hold terrain, if they do, they're going to get smashed.” In the military schools, Maj.-Gen. Fortin said both the numbers of instructors and the proficiency of the instructors in the Iraqi military are increasing. “If we only did that and left,” he said, “we would perhaps be happy with the number of instructors, but that would go away if we did not help them with establishing a training system and ensuring that we have appropriate human resource management processes.” Currently, the major general said, the success of the mission is “fragile.” “We need to continue to impress upon the urgency of the moment,” Maj.-Gen. Fortin said. “You don't have years to do this, you really need to work on addressing Daesh, but really retooling your army.” He added in a year's time, he envisions that there will be military schools that won't require a mobile training team of NATO officials, but instead can gain their expertise by training in institutions in NATO countries. “Along the way, we need to establish the mechanisms for long-term partnership between NATO and Iraq that will—once fully established and we have sufficiently trained and advised in those areas and created that irreversible momentum—a future commander of NATO mission Iraq could recommend mission termination and continue the long term effort with NATO, not necessarily with people there day in, day out,” Maj.-Gen. Fortin said. In the coming years, he could see the mission reduce some of its scope and activities, while continuing an advisory role. “I've told Iraqi leaders, we're not here forever,” he said. Prof. Massie told The Hill Times that ensure the success of the mission, it needs to be around for the long haul. “What we've learned from past capacity-building operations is that success a long-term presence by external trainers, so by NATO or Western allies,” he said. He added that part of the difficulty the Iraqi security forces faced in 2014 struggling to curtail the rise of ISIS was related to the U.S. withdrawal and NATO ending its training mission in 2011, due to the wishes of the Iraqi government. “Had NATO and the United States, in particular, still been there in 2014, perhaps what we saw with the rapid rise of ISIS would not have happened as we witnessed,” he said. “I think we have to be cautious in trying to exit too early from capacity-building missions,” Prof. Massie said. Bessma Momani, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and professor at the University of Waterloo, said the process of professionalizing a military can take years. “I think there's enough work to be done there to keep the Canadian Armed Forces busy for a minimum of 10 years,” she said. “In the name of professionalization ... there's a lot to do,” Prof. Momani said. “They're not near the benchmark goal of being a modern 21st century Western-like army.” Chris Kilford, a fellow at the Queen’s University Centre for International and Defence Policy, said there is a need for a long-term investment in Iraq. “It can't be something that ends in a year or two ... it's a long-term investment,” said Mr. Kilford, a former defence attaché at Canada’s embassy in Turkey. Even after Canada relinquishes command of the mission, he said Canada needs to stay and play its part. Mr. Kilford said if NATO is not there, the region will continue to be in a fragile state. Prof. Massie said it won't be the decision of NATO allies that will push the mission out of Iraq, but the Iraqi government. “I think there is a desire by the Iraqi army and government to have a 'train the trainers' approach in order to have a quick fix to their military and not have a long-term presence of Westerners,” he said. But, Prof. Momani said within the Iraqi protests there isn't a great level of anti-Americanism or anti-Western sentiment, instead the ire is focused against Iran. Although the presence of any foreign army is not a popular sight in any Middle East country, she said a training mission opposed to a monitoring force ensures for better optics. email@example.com The Hill Times Editor's Note: This article was updated on Dec. 18, 2019, to include Canadian Maj.-Gen. Fortin's comment that it is mostly the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and Iraqi police forces quelling Iraq protests and not the forces under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi Ministry of Defence.