OTTAWA — In promising an immediate end to combat operations in Iraq, an NDP government is swimming against an international tide — even French socialists in recent days have called for greater military action in the Middle East.
The New Democrats would immediately halt Canada's bombing campaign against Islamic State militants and withdraw special forces trainers who have been instructing Kurdish peshmerga fighters, leader Tom Mulcair said Thursday.
The NDP would not wait for the parliamentary mandate — Canada is currently committed to the U.S.-led coalition until the end of March — to expire, he emphasized.
"Canada would put an end to our participation in the combat mission in Iraq and in Syria immediately. We've been clear on that since Day 1."
There are other things Canada should be doing, such as more effectively cracking down on the flow of foreign fighters, stopping the flow of arms, and halting the flow of money to extremists, Mulcair added.
He justified the stand by saying the campaign is not a United Nations-sanctioned mission, nor is it being conducted under the auspices of NATO.
"Canada is free — we have our own foreign policy, we'll have an independent foreign policy under an NDP government and we will put an end to Canada's participation in the combat mission in Iraq and Syria," he said.
"We're serious about that and we have been consistent on it and that's what we've said since Day 1."
On the other hand, the U.S.-led training mission in Ukraine, which is also neither a UN-sanctioned enterprise nor being conducted under NATO's umbrella, would continue if the NDP is elected in Oct. 19, Mulcair said.
His remarks come three days after French President Francois Hollande ordered his country's military to begin preparations to expand its bombing campaign from Iraq into Syria.
It is also happening as published reports suggest Russian troops may have started limited combat operations in support of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Canada sat out the 2003 war in Iraq, resulting in a chill with Washington that ended when the Martin government took up the combat mission in Kandahar.
NDP officials, speaking on background, say their policy on the war in Iraq and Syria differs little from to their opposition to the mission in Afghanistan, a position Canadians "came around to eventually."
The combat mission against the Taliban was ended by the Harper government almost two years ahead of the U.S. and Britain. How an abrupt withdrawal from the fight against the Islamic State — also known as ISIL or ISIS — would be perceived remains an open question.
Reaction to Mulcair's statement in the Kurdish community was swift, with one group accusing the NDP of trolling for votes without understanding the gravity of what they're proposing and playing directly into the hands of the extremists.
"This is crazy. Really, it's crazy," said Yusuf Celik, vice-president of the Kurdish Youth Association of Canada.
"Stopping the bombing of ISIS? Stopping the training against ISIS? That is exactly what they (ISIL) want."
The ex-pat Kurdish community, with roots in both Iraq and Syria, has mostly stood behind the Harper government's military intervention, but has grown increasingly frustrated with Conservatives who've remained silent while NATO ally Turkey bombs both Kurds and ISIL.
Celik said the NDP's stand attracts "socialist voters and conservative Muslims, who look positively on the Islamic State," and doesn't acknowledge ISIL is "killing socialists" and members of civil society in the Middle East.
He said the NDP was happy to exploit the horrific images of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a Turkish beach last week, forgetting the child's family was fleeing the advance of militants in his hometown of Kobani.
"They're saying, 'Just give us his pictures for our political campaign, but don't give us any of your other issues,'" Celik said.
Canada joined the fight against the Islamic State in October 2014 for an initial six-month campaign in Iraq, which was expanded last March into Syria for up to a year.
The international coalition has delivered air power and training to Iraqi and Kurdish forces, but has not deployed combat troops to root out extremists from vast swaths of territory captured in 2013 and 2014. The strategy has largely resulted in what the incoming commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps described as a "stalemate" during testimony before Congress.
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