Thursday, February 9, 2017

Iraqi Kurds to receive sniper rifles, anti-tank weapons, mortars from Canada

By: David Pugliese, The National Post 

Canada will provide long-range sniper rifles and anti-tank weapons to the Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State (ISIL) in northern Iraq, the Department of National Defence said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a year ago that Canada would arm the Kurds, and DND said Wednesday the list included .50-calibre sniper rifles equipped with silencers, 60mm mortars, as well as Carl Gustav anti-tank systems. Details about the numbers of each type of equipment were withheld for security reasons.

Other gear includes grenade launchers, pistols, carbines, thermal binoculars, cameras, scopes and medical supplies.

DND did not say when the arms would be delivered.

“We are currently working through the administrative, legal and various supply arrangements to enable the delivery of equipment,” DND spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said Wednesday. “Exact delivery dates will depend on the Government of Iraq, as well as the availability of the identified equipment for delivery.”

But a Kurdish general told a Kurdish news outlet that within a month, Canada will make good on its promise.

“It should include weapons, military equipment and devices for the size of a battalion — everything, not including vehicles,” Brigadier General Hajar Ismail, director of coordination and relations at the Kurdish Ministry of Peshmerga told Rudaw, a Kurdish media outlet. “The paperwork is done, Baghdad has signed off.”

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Canada required that the Iraqi government provide written approval to proceed with the provision of the equipment to the Kurds.

It took until December before the Iraqis did that, according to DND.

The issue of arming the Kurds, who have been trained by Canadian special forces, is highly controversial. Kurdish leaders openly acknowledge their intent is to eventually create an independent state. They argue it is their right to break away from Iraq, pointing to Quebec’s attempts to leave Canada as an example. The arms are needed both to fight against ISIL and to defend an independent state, Kurdish leaders have said.

It is unclear why Iraq took almost a year to approve Canada’s arming of the Kurds. In the summer, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the delay was due to bureaucratic roadblocks and not resistance from the Iraqi or Turkish governments.

The U.S. military already has provided Kurdish units with mortars, anti-tank weapons and armoured personnel carriers. The U.K. announced last year it had shipped heavy machine guns and ammunition.

In August 2016, Germany resumed its weapons shipments to the Kurds. Such shipments were halted after it emerged that some of the weapons Germany previously supplied to the Kurdish Peshmerga had turned up on the black market.

Germany’s latest shipment included 1,500 rifles, 1 million rounds of ammunition, three armoured vehicles and 100 MILAN guided missiles.

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