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It's the Right Time for Canada to Get Involved in Iraq

10/05/2014 10:40 EDT | Updated 12/05/2014 05:59 EST
CP

On September 15, 2014, Prime Minister Stephan Harper stated that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's (ISIL) actions were "evil, vile, and must be unambiguously opposed."

Shortly after, former Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy commented in an interview that Canada's approach had been too far too cautious:

"...This is an act of war crime, it's obnoxious and obscene and these guys have to be whacked and whacked good...I'm not arguing in the least with Prime Minister Harper's tough words. I just want to see tougher action...If you are going to take them on, you don't wound them. You just kind of have to suppress them and get rid of them...."

On Friday, Prime Minister Harper announced that Canada would join allies, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and others in launching air strikes against ISIL in Iraq. Up to six CF-188 Hornet fighter jets (more commonly referred to as CF-18s), two Aurora surveillance aircraft, and a refuelling aircraft would conduct operations.

Add in support crew and the existing military advisors, and the total deployment could reach approximately 670 personnel.

The announcement on Friday builds on the growing engagement that Canada has recently taken part in with respect to Iraq on a variety of fronts:

• Since 2009, Canada has resettled over 18,000 Iraqi refugees.

• The pace of Canadian interaction with Iraq increased following Minister Jason Kenney's visit to Baghdad in March 2013. Kenney was the first Canadian minister to visit Iraq since 1976.

• The following year, Foreign Affairs opened a mission in Baghdad and a trade office in Erbil.

• Prior to the most recent crisis, Iraq had been Canada's second largest two-way trading partner in the Middle East in 2013.

• Earlier this year, Iraq was added as one of Canada's development partners, making it eligible to receive more development aid.

• Canada also committed close to $30M in humanitarian aid to this crisis. In addition to the $10M in non-lethal security assistance (including helmets and body armour), Canada also provided $5M to "support regional efforts to limit the movement of foreign fighters" into Iraq.

• The Royal Canadian Air Force's CC-130J Hercules and CC-177 Globemaster III transport planes delivered to Iraqi forces military equipment donated by Albania.

Most recently, Foreign Minister John Baird even took along NDP and Liberal party critics when he visited Iraq in September to see firsthand the tragic situation wrought by ISIL (an organization which the Government of Canada listed as a terrorist entity in 2012).

Prime Minister Harper has described the threat posed by ISIL as a "grave danger to the security of the region...and if left unchecked, this lawlessness area will become a training ground for international terrorists and an even greater threat to the security of Canada and its allies."

Indeed, ISIL is well funded, well equipped (having seized some weapons that were provided by the United States to the Iraqi army), and has thousands of fighters. A recent report by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded that there were gross abuses of human rights perpetrated by ISIL, including widespread targeting of civilians, murdering captured soldiers, rape, and systematically targeting of ethnic and religious communities and 'cleansing' them from areas under their control. The report notes that these actions may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Despite this, opposition parties have given notice that they will not vote in favour of the motion tabled on Friday that supports the Canadian government's decision to contribute military assets to the fight against ISIL, including air strike capability for a period of up to six months. The debate and vote on Monday is expected to pass given the Conservative majority in the House.

Perhaps the opposition parties believe we should leave it to countries like Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands to carry the weight.

On the one hand, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau has said it's not about whipping "out our CF-18s and show how big they are" then referred to the military commitment as a "few ageing warplanes."

These fighter jets that Mr. Trudeau seemingly referred to dismissively first saw combat operations during the First Gulf War, flew as part of the Kosovo campaign in 1999, and more recently, conducted ten percent of NATO strike sorties in Libya, dropping 696 bombs. Somehow, it is doubtful that the ISIL terrorists would find humour in the CF-18 Hornet.

Perhaps opposition parties would do well to remember what former Foreign Minister John Manley said shortly after September 11, 2001: "You can't just sit at the G8 table and then when the bill comes go to the washroom. If you want to play a role in the world, even as a small member of the G8, there's a cost to doing that. "

Against ISIL and its genocidal agenda in Iraq, it's timely that Canada has stepped up.

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