By: Scott Taylor, Esprit de Corps Magazine
Since Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) soldiers first deployed into Erbil in September 2014 they have been sporting the bright red, white and green striped flag of Kurdistan on their right sleeves. The CSOR commandos are in Erbil in an ‘advise-and-assist’ role for the Kurdish military forces containing the advances of Daesh.
The stated overall goal of Canada’s military intervention against Daesh — first applied by the Harper Conservatives and then echoed by the Trudeau Liberals — is the eventual restoration of a unified Iraq following the defeat of Daesh.
Of course, this is not the intention of the Kurdish fighters whom our brave Canadian commandos are training. The Kurds are fighting to establish an independent Kurdistan as symbolized by the Kurdish flags worn on their uniforms, affixed to their vehicles, and adorned on all of their outposts and government buildings. This is why it makes absolutely no sense for our soldiers to be wearing a symbol of a separatist state — one that is unrecognized by any other country in the world — while our politicians still talk of a unified Iraq.
Questions about Canadian soldiers wearing the Kurdish flag instead of the Iraqi flag on their uniforms were first raised a few weeks ago following Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance’s visit to Erbil. The only two media outlets with access to that junket were CTV News and the Toronto Star. The Kurdish flags on Canadian uniforms went unmentioned in the original news stories, but they were so glaringly obvious in the images and footage that pundits in Canada questioned the meaning of our soldiers wearing foreign flags in a complex, multi-factional conflict.
Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan at first tried to deflect the issue by reminding reporters that Canadian soldiers had worn the flag of Afghanistan on their sleeves during our decade-long intervention. It was journalists who then reminded the MND that Afghanistan is a recognized state and our soldiers were in that country to prop up the Kabul regime. In contrast, the Kurdish flag is a symbol of a separatist state attempting to break away from the central Iraq authority, which our foreign policy proclaims to support.
The flag issue would likely have faded into obscurity but for the fact that U.S. troops operating in Syria were spotted wearing Kurdish insignia. This caused a backlash in the U.S. and the Pentagon immediately issued orders to remove the foreign symbols. This precedent by the U.S. caused a problem for Canada, as it now makes us look even stupider for having boldly sported Kurdish flags for nearly two years.
In a clumsy attempt at damage control Major General Mike Rouleau, the commander of the Canadian Special Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) and, as such, the man responsible for our trainers in Kurdistan, reached out to the same two CTV and Toronto Star reporters with an exclusive ‘scoop.’ In light of the American forces’ removal of Kurdish badges, Rouleau explained that Canada may stop wearing the flag of Kurdistan. “We’ll re-examine that and we may well take them off too,” Rouleau was reported as saying.
As for Canadians wearing the controversial flags in the first place, Rouleau made some rather petulant comments. “I refuse to get involved in the politics of war. That’s not my job. I’m a general,” stated Rouleau. Referring to the Kurdistan flags directly, Rouleau claimed that “it is a recognized symbol worn by Iraqi security forces. People can debate it and kind of spin it anyway they want. For me, it’s nothing more than a symbol of solidarity.”
As a general, Rouleau should not so recklessly endanger his troops by sending them into the equivalent of a gangland turf war and having them wear one particular bike gang’s colours. The flag of Kurdistan is NOT in any way a symbol of Iraqi security forces; it is exactly the opposite as Kurdish fighters have clashed directly on numerous occasions with the Iraqi army.
The sooner our soldiers take those flags off their uniforms the better. And if our commanders still know so little about the regional complexities after nearly two years in theatre, they really should get the heck out of there.