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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Canada in Iraq: Sajjan - Government will Vote on New Iraq Mission

By: Tim Naumetz, The Hill Times 

The Liberal government will bring a decision on renewing and changing Canada’s participation in the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State combatants in Iraq to the House of Commons for a vote, says Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

“We promised to be an open and transparent government. We will be discussing it in Cabinet, and we will be bringing it to the House as well,” Mr. Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.) told The Hill Times Monday in response to questions as the March 30, 2016, expiry date approaches for a year-long extension to the Iraq mission by the previous Conservative government.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) and his Cabinet have indicated the government intends to continue Canada’s role in a U.S.-led military campaign against ISIL, Mr. Trudeau as late as last week signaled the government will stick to a Liberal election promise that it would withdraw six Canadian CF-18 fighter bombers that have been part of air-strike operations along with the U.S. and 11 other countries.

Despite Mr. Sajjan’s statement, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, Que.) continued to criticize Mr. Trudeau and his government over the time that has passed with no change to Canada’s Iraq mission since the Liberals took office last Nov. 4.

Air strikes by Canada's CF-18s have continued, while operations by Canadian Special Forces soldiers attached to Iraqi security forces also continue.

"Mr. Trudeau made a crystal clear commitment to withdraw Canada's CF-18s from the bombing mission. Instead of making good on that promise, the bombings increased and then his Defence minister mused about extending the mission without consulting with Parliament,” Mr. Mulcair said Monday.

“The Liberal government must bring any change to the mission before Parliament and finally come clean with their plans for our military. It is unacceptable to have this much confusion when it comes to our troops in combat,” he said through his top media aide, George Smith.

The motion passed on March 30, 2015 stated that the Commons supported the previous Conservative government’s decision to extend the mission, which the Conservatives first approved for a six-month period in October, 2014, to “a date not beyond March 30, 2016.”

The motion also stated that the House of Commons “continues to support the government's decision to contribute Canadian military assets to the fight against ISIL, and terrorists aligned with ISIL, including air strike capability with authorisation to conduct airstrikes in Iraq and Syria."

Canadian CF-18s took part in only four air strikes against ISIL targets in Syria up to last July and have not conducted air strikes in Syria since then, but the wording of the March 30, 2015, motion suggests withdrawal of the CF-18s by this coming March 30 would have to be included in a new motion, as well as continuance of Canadian refuelling, surveillance and cargo aircraft in the mission.

As well, considering the Liberal commitment to Parliamentary reform and consultation with Parliament, any increase in the number of Canadian Special Operations Regiment soldiers as advisers and trainers for Kurdish Peshmerga Iraqi security forces would likely also be included in the motion.

Mr. Trudeau reiterated the Liberal CF-18 withdrawal plans at the World Economy Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland, last week.

“We are committed to withdrawing our six CF-18 fighter jets and looking for another way to continue in the efforts against these global terrorists,” he said.

Relatives of six Canadians who were killed in an Al Qaeda terrorist attack in Burkina Faso last week—all from Quebec and four from the same family—called on the government to maintain Canada’s role in the bombing campaigns.

Mr. Sajjan suggested Monday the Canadian mission could continue as it is until the March 30 deadline, as Mr. Trudeau and his Cabinet map out the new Canadian contribution.

“We do need to look at how we're going to evolve in terms of the next, you know, what the next year may look like or even beyond that, and this is where it's extremely important,” Mr. Sajjan told reporters outside the Commons after Question Period.

He said Canada’s new mission has to be “synchronized” approach involving several departments. “The decision will be coming soon,” he said.

tnaumetz@hilltimes.com
The Hill Times