Canada has suspended the assistance its special forces were providing to Iraqi security forces as Iraqi and Kurdish forces battle each other.
Canadian commandos have been working with the Kurds and some assistance has been provided to the Iraqis.
|Canadian special forces look over a Peshmerga observation post, Monday, February 20, 2017 in northern Iraq.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz|
But, “given the fluidity of the current situation, Canada’s Special Operations Task Force has temporarily suspended the provision of assistance to various elements of Iraqi security forces,” Canadian Forces spokesman Col. Jay Janzen said Friday.
“Once more clarity exists regarding the interrelationships of Iraqi security forces, and the key priorities and tasks going forward, the Task Force will resume activities,” he said. “In the interim, they will continue to monitor the situation and plan for the next potential phases of operational activity.”
The Ottawa Citizen reported Wednesday that Canada is also reviewing its program to supply the Kurds with small arms.
Canadian special forces have been providing assistance to the Kurds and Iraqis in their war against ISIL. But with ISIL in retreat, Iraqi and Kurdish forces are now fighting each other. The Kurds want to separate from Iraq and, during the war against ISIL, they seized large portions of the country. That included the city of Kirkuk and nearby oil fields, which hold an estimated 40 per cent of Iraq’s oil.
The Iraqi government declared the recent Kurdish referendum supporting independence illegal and sent troops to retake Kirkuk and other territory.
The Kurds offered on Wednesday to put any drive towards independence on hold, but that was rejected by the Iraqis.
However, on Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered a 24-hour ceasefire. That “should allow a joint technical committee to work on the deployment of federal Iraqi forces in all disputed areas, including Fish-Khabur, and the international border,” Abadi said in a statement.
The Kurds have welcomed the pause in fighting.
Janzen said the Canadian Forces will continue to support the U.S.-led coalition battling ISIL. That includes the provision of transport helicopters, a medical facility and surveillance and intelligence gathering capabilities.
“Only the provision of assistance to various elements of Iraqi security forces has been temporarily suspended,” Janzen said.
The previous Conservative government sent Canadian special forces to northern Iraq to train the Kurds starting in 2014. That program was continued by the Liberals.
But the issue of training and arming the Kurds has been highly controversial from the start. Kurdish leaders openly acknowledged their intent was to eventually create an independent state. The arms were needed both to fight against ISIL and to defend an independent state, they said.
The Kurds say at least 30 of their soldiers have been killed and another 150 wounded in ongoing clashes.
Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurds’ top diplomat in Washington, said it’s past time the international community end its “laser focus” on ISIL and begin to address Iraq’s many underlying problems.
“’We are laser-focused on (ISIL).’ That has been the mantra of the past few years,” Abdul Rahman told The Canadian Press. “But to continue to say we’re laser-focused on (ISIL) is missing the obvious truth of what is happening in Iraq.”