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Friday, February 26, 2016

Canada in Iraq: Government to Vote on New ISIS Mission, March 8

By TIM NAUMETZ | The Hill Times 
Published: Friday, 02/26/2016 1

A House of Commons vote on the Liberal government’s decision to pull Canadian fighter planes out of air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria while tripling the number of Canadian soldiers near front lines with Iraqi security forces is set to be held on Tuesday, March 8, according to a schedule all sides agreed to this week.

A motion from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) calling on the Commons to support the government’s renewed Iraq mission is bound to pass with the Liberal majority.

The decision to withdraw Canada’s six CF-18 fighter planes from U.S.-lead coalition air strikes against ISIL fighting positions and other targets while beefing other military components, including helicopter transport support for Canadian special forces soldiers advising Kurdish Peshmerga troops, dominated most of the opposition arguments in the extended debate.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair (Outremont, Que.) declared at the outset on Wednesday, Feb. 17, that his MPs would vote against the motion on grounds Canadian soldiers are taking part in ground combat by serving close to frontlines with the Peshmerga soldiers and having exchanged fire with ISIL soldiers, targeted air strikes against ISIL targets along front lines of battle and taken part in defending a Peshmerga compound against a major ISIL assault last December.

A Canadian CF-18 fighter jet, along with two French warplanes, helped to repel the attack.

Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose (Sturgeon River-Parkland, Alta.) has made it clear the Conservative party is likely to oppose Mr. Trudeau’s motion, after she moved an amendment on the first day of the debate calling on the Commons instead to urge the government to “re-establish Canada’s influence within the international decision-making process in the fight against terrorism and rebuild the trust Canada has lost with its allies by reversing its decision to withdraw, which essentially removes Canada from any combat role.”

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.), however, told the Senate this week the government plan will maintain the close relationship between Canadian special operation troops and Peshmerga security forces they are currently with, including to the point Iraqi security forces begin a ground offensive to re-capture the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, overrun by ISIL fighters after they began attacks against Iraqi government and military positions in 2014.

“As the Iraqi security forces take cities, the U.S. was already there for a significant amount of time. We need to be able to train the Iraqi security forces, because if you realize how the problem happened in the first place, they weren't able to hold ground, and Daesh [ISIL] was able to take over,” Mr. Sajjan told Senators on Wednesday when he appeared for a special Question Period.

“As we re-take those cities, keep in mind we need to leave troops on the ground in the cities as you go to the next one. You need to train a significant number of troops to be able to have an eventual defeat,” Mr. Sajjan said in response to questions. “You cannot defeat an enemy like this from the air, so we have adjusted our mission to be more suited towards defeat of Daesh alongside our coalition partners, making sure a critical piece in the north, where we're at, remains stable, and that we have trained the right security force, not just external, but internal as well.”

He added: “As the Iraqi security forces make their way up, coming up to Mosul, we will be very close to that line. It's part of a wider plan to make sure of the eventual defeat of ISIL. I am not talking about our CF-18s or air strikes or dropping bombs. I am talking about the defeat of the enemy, which is Daesh. The only way we can do this is by making sure that we train the Iraqi security forces to be able to hold their ground, and, more importantly, to keep the ground and the gains after the defeat is complete. When they can maintain the stability in that nation, then we can work on the political piece as well to keep the entire region stable.”

Mr. Sajjan said Thursday the reference to Canadian soldiers being close to the front line when Iraqi security forces eventually attack ISIL troops holding Mosul is consistent with the existing “advise and assist” role for the Canadians. “The training mission as it stands, as it always ways, does not change,” Mr. Sajjan said in response to a question about his statement in the Senate. “Our troops are providing the Peshmerga the advise and assist function, making sure that they are able plan their defences and making sure that they can adjust to the needs of the threat, but we also do a lot of work for the internal security as well, so there’s a lot of moving parts, but the advise and assist mission, from as it was, does not change.”

Conservative MP James Bezan (Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman, Man.) told The Hill Times he believes the debate in the House on the motion was worthwhile, even though the result of the vote has been known from the start. “We knew what the outcome was going to be, but at least everybody has had a chance to voice their opinion. I’m satisfied that we’ve had enough time to have that debate and that our position was put out there clearly, that the CF-18s need to be in the fight,” Mr. Bezan said.

Mr. Trudeau made a point of noting, when he announced the renewed Canadian mission, which includes more than $1-billion of humanitarian and civil society development in the war-torn region, and confirmed the plan would go to a motion and debate in the Commons, that Cabinet has the authority to make decisions over international treaties and combat operations without the consent of Parliament.

tnaumetz@hilltimes.com
The Hill Times