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Friday, November 11, 2016

On Remembrance Day, Canadians in Iraq face combat

By: GAVIN JOHN, SPECIAL TO THE TORONTO SUN

BISHAQA, IRAQ - You don’t have to go far back in history to remember a Canadian soldier fighting for freedom overseas. In fact, all you have to go back is 24 hours in Iraq.

While Canadians prepare to pay their respects this Remembrance Day to veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice, Canadian Forces are making a meaningful impact today in the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq.

On the outskirts of Bishaqa, Iraqi Kurdish soldiers — the Peshmerga — sit around and discuss the recent operation to liberate the town. When Canada is brought up there is nothing but praise. When the actions of Canadian Special Forces is mentioned, smiles come over the faces of the soldiers. They place their hands over their hearts as a sign of gratitude.

While officially on a “consult and advise” mission, as the official statements from the Kurds and Department of National Defence both state, the Canadian Forces are more than capable of defending themselves and their allies if threatened.

The battle has been hard fought for the Kurds, with much of the town bears the sign of an enemy who fights to the end. IEDs lay open on the roads, marked only by red flags, and many of the building lie in ruin. Kurdish armoured vehicles patrol the rubble, while in the skies coalition jets circle overhead. Throughout the day, sporadic gunfire and IED explosions are reminders that this war is far from won.

Too often, Remembrance Day speaks of battles long past, against foes long defeated, and for countries long secured. Yet among the bomb-riddled streets of Iraq, Canadian courage and commitment to freedom is clearly still in action.

To the frontline soldiers today in Bishaqa, Canada is a potent ally for freedom and one they hope stays the course.

The Canadian Special Forces mission in Iraq is a thankless job. Little is shared with the public, and Ottawa refuses to comment on the exact details of their actions.

This Remembrance Day will be one that Canadians take a moment and thank the sacrifices from days past, and one that Iraqis, Kurds and Canadians can take comfort in knowing that as we speak, Canada stands beside our allies to defend their freedom half a world away.