03/09/2015 01:49 EDT | Updated 05/09/2015 05:59 EDT

Canada's Iraq Mission: NDP Says Details Of Friendly Fire Probe Vital

OTTAWA - The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq is planning to join a pair of Canadian investigations already underway into last week's deadly friendly-fire episode in northern Iraq, but experts say if recent history is any guide, the public should temper its expectations about the findings.

In an interview Monday with The Canadian Press, Gen. Tom Lawson, the country's chief of defence staff, said the international headquarters overseeing the war against the Islamic State is "interested in exactly what happened and therefore will be leading their own investigation."

The involvement of American commanders takes the concern about the deadly mistake — which claimed the life of 31-year-old Sgt. Andrew Doiron — to a completely different level, especially in light of a call for U.S. special forces to be operating at the front line.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke Monday with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who expressed his condolences over the death, Canada's first overseas casualty in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney implored opposition parties to let due process unfold.

"Obviously, our (special forces) operators are ensuring that steps are taken to ensure there is no repeat of this tragic incident," Kenney said.

"There are three investigations that we hope to see the results of very soon."

There is a military police case and a technical investigation, known as a board of inquiry — both of which are standard procedure whenever a soldier dies in the line of duty. As part of the technical investigation, the special forces are conducting their own internal review.

Even so, there are significant organizational and cultural barriers that cause both a former special forces commander and a leading defence analyst to wonder if anyone can be held responsible, and whether such calamities can truly be avoided in the future.

"Whether somebody will be held accountable for this, I don't know," said Roland Paris, director of the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa.

"Should they be? Yes, of course, but I don't know enough about how the Kurds handle these situations to be able to guess at how they will do."

A former commando said the Kurds, while tenacious fighters, are a fledgling military with different standards and rules of engagement.

"Should we expect someone to be held to account? Yes," said Steve Day, a former special forces commander and security expert.

"But are they going to be held to account in a western manner? No, I don't think that is reasonable that they be held to account in the same style that we would hold someone to account because it's a completely different culture."

Prosecuting friendly-fire cases between nations, even among advanced western armies, is a tenuous matter, one usually fraught with diplomatic drawbacks.

There were three such fatal incidents in Afghanistan where Canadian troops were mistakenly hit by U.S. forces, but only one resulted in a court martial.

"It's the fog of war," said Day.

"If that young Kurdish soldier believed what he saw was a threat, how are we going to work through the mechanics of ascertaining whether his rules of engagement, which are nothing like ours, were correct? I don't see scenario where there's a prosecution like we would see in Canada."

Kurdish officials said Sunday that their soldiers opened fire on the unsuspecting Canadians after they showed up unannounced at the front line to call in airstrikes against Islamic State fighters.

A senior Canadian defence official strongly refuted that narrative and expressed confidence the investigation would show the Canadians were not at fault and had taken every necessary precaution.

Lawson said the investigations would establish the facts of the case, noting that the special forces troops had already been in the area where Doiron was killed earlier in the day and had set up a meeting to return.

The public disagreement has the potential of damaging the relationship the Canadians have built with the Kurds, said Paris.

Lawson disagreed, saying the rapport that's been built up over six months of providing advice and support would not be easily shaken.

"We've got a link of trust that runs the gamut from the lowest levels to the highest levels" of the Kurdish military establishment, Lawson said.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, speaking in Laval, Que., urged the Conservative government to provide more details about Canada's mission in Iraq.

"It's time for Mr. Harper to give the whole truth on our role in Iraq," Mulcair said. "Canadians deserve to know exactly what we're doing over there."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had an incorrect first name for Sgt. Andrew Doiron. It also referred to a trio of Canadian investigations instead of a pair of them.

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