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Monday, April 25, 2016

Arming Kurds - Putin’s latest Iraq gambit

By" Matthew Fisher, The Ottawa Citizen

West’s plan for united state may be in peril

Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion has declared Ottawa’s enthusiasm for rebooting Ottawa’s frosty relationship with Moscow through cooperation rather than confrontation just as Canada’s military mission in Iraq becomes more complicated because of the machinations of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia is to supply arms to Kurdish Iraqi Peshmerga operating near the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-held city of Mosul, according to the Wall Street Journal. The weapons are to be used in an area where Peshmerga fighters who are poised to attack Mosul from the north have been working closely for more than a year with Canadian special forces advisers.

According to the Journal, the Kremlin will begin providing the Kurds with more advanced weapons next month and may provide training on them in Russia.

Putin’s new venture in Iraq comes amid a week when he has deeply unsettled Washington and its allies by boasting that Russian ground forces, backed by helicopter gunships, had joined Syrian Kurds in the battle for control of areas surrounding the city of Aleppo. The U.S. revealed last week that Russian warplanes had come within 30 metres of a U.S. destroyer in the Baltic Sea and conducted a similar buzzing of a U.S. destroyer in Black Sea waters that were patrolled until very recently by a Canadian frigate.

The U. S. navy also revealed that Russian submarines have greatly increased the number of patrols they make, including in Arctic waters where Canada has strategic interests.

This follows last year’s revelations that the Kremlin had built or improved 15 military bases in its far north and was going to base thousands of combat forces there.

Putin’s arms deal with the Peshmerga came after long and loud complaints from the Kurds that their American and Canadian allies have not provided them with the kind of advanced weapons they require to fight ISIL.

Washington and Ottawa have been reluctant to do so because they are worried that if the Kurds received more potent guns, they would eventually be turned on Baghdad in a bid to carve out their own homeland in northern Iraq.

The West’s position is that Iraq’s Kurds and its Shia and Sunni Arabs must remain part of a united Iraqi state and that providing the Kurds with advanced weaponry could destroy the precarious power balance that exists in those parts of the war-weary country that are not controlled by ISIL.


Despite Dion’s olive branch to Moscow, the latest Russian gambit in Iraq appears designed to not only give Russia a bigger role there. It is likely to create mischief between the U.S., Canada and the Peshmerga who, since the days of Saddam Hussein have usually done the West’s bidding although they have never felt that they have received enough help in return.

The U.S. has not objected publicly to the Russia arms transfer to the Iraqi Kurds. But it was likely no coincidence that the White House finally agreed last week to a long-standing request from the Peshmerga for $ 415 million in aid. Most of the money will be used to pay Kurdish fighters.

Whether or not Russian ground forces are actually engaged in combat in Syria, Moscow has begun supplying arms and ammunition to Syrian Kurds, too. That development, near Syria’s border with Turkey, has predictably infuriated the Turks. They regard the Syrian Kurds as mortal enemies because of their links to independence-minded Kurds in southern Turkey.

Turkey has been seriously at odds with Russia since it entered the Syrian war to save dictator Bashar Assad’s regime.

Relations became much worse after a Turkish jet shot down a Russian fighter plane near the Syrian-Turkish border last year.

After that incident, Putin demanded that Syria’s Kurds be given a place at any peace talks.

In an unconnected development that underlined how out of sync Canada has become with its NATO allies about not only how to confront Russia in eastern Europe, but the need for deadly force to defeat ISIL, Denmark’s parliament answered an urgent request by the U.S. and France for combat help by voting last week to send seven F-16 fighter jets to join the bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria.

The Trudeau government chose the opposite path six weeks ago, withdrawing its six CF-18s from the air war over Iraq and Syria.

Tiny Denmark, with a population of less than oneseventh that of Canada, has said that taking on ISIL was one of its highest priorities.

It regards ISIL as such a threat to global peace and stability that, in addition to jets, it is increasing the number of regular forces and special forces commandos that it has training Iraqi government forces.