‘This fight is not any­where near over’


Calgary Herald - - CANADA - LEE BERTHIAUME

OT­TAWA • Canadian spe­cial forces have left the city of Mo­sul and are now back­ing up Iraqi forces as they pre­pare to as­sault one of the Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant’s last strongholds in the coun­try.

The move comes amid grow­ing fric­tion be­tween the var­i­ous lo­cal groups fac­ing off against ISIL, and warn- ings that de­spite its bat­tle­field vic­to­ries, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has a lot more work to do in Iraq.

The Iraqi mil­i­tary, Kur­dish pesh­merga and var­i­ous para­mil­i­tary groups have sur­rounded Haw­ija, a city of about 150,000 peo­ple, and are wait­ing for Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi’s or­der to at­tack.

Vic­tory there would rep­re­sent a piv­otal mo­ment in the war against ISIL, since the group would then con­trol only a few small pock­ets of Iraqi ter­ri­tory along Syria’s bor­der.

Canadian troops who had been help­ing Iraqi forces se­cure Mo­sul through­out the sum­mer are now near Haw­ija, and will pro­vide sup­port dur­ing the up­com­ing bat­tle, mil­i­tary spokesman Maj. Alexan­dre Cadieux said Fri­day.

Canada has about 200 spe­cial forces sol­diers sup­port­ing lo­cal forces in north­ern Iraq. Most of their work has been with the Kurds, but Cadieux said they are also now op­er­at­ing with other Iraqi groups.

“Mem­bers of the Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Task Force will pro­vide their (Iraqi Se­cu­rity Force) part­ners with ad­vice and as­sis­tance in the vicin­ity of Haw­ija,” Cadieux said in an email.

“Canadian Armed Forces per­son­nel are ad­vis­ing its part­ners on how to best se­cure their po­si­tion and pre­vent ef­fec­tive counter-at­tacks from Daesh,” he added, us­ing the Ara­bic name for ISIL.

“CAF per­son­nel also ad­vise and as­sist in the de­tec­tion, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and pos­si­ble prose­cu­tion of Daesh tar­gets by our part­ner, or through coali­tion re­sources.”

Ex­actly when the bat­tle will start has been a source of spec­u­la­tion for sev­eral weeks.

Haw­ija is lo­cated in ter­ri­tory claimed by both the Kurds, who have their own semi-in­de­pen­dent re­gional gov­ern­ment, as well as Iraq’s cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad.

That alone has cre­ated dis­agree­ments be­tween the var­i­ous forces pre­par­ing to at­tack the city, but the fact the Kurds plan to hold a ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence on Sept. 25 has height­ened tensions.

Yet even if Haw­ija is lib­er­ated, one se­nior Canadian of­fi­cer whose job is to or­ga­nize coali­tion train­ing ef­forts and help Iraqi of­fi­cials plan oper­a­tions says the hard work is just be­gin­ning.

Brig.- Gen. Steven Whalen said that’s be­cause Iraqi se­cu­rity forces will con­tinue to need help as ISIL shifts to ter­ror­ist tac­tics such as sui­cide bomb­ings, one of which killed 80 peo­ple on Fri­day.

“This fight is not any­where near over,” Whalen said in an in­ter­view from Bagh­dad, where he is lead­ing a team of in­ter­na­tional ad­vis­ers in­side Iraq’s de­fence min­istry.

“From a mil­i­tary per­spec­tive, we are ex­pect­ing that there is go­ing to be some kind of in­sur­gency- type sce­nario that will evolve. And we see some signs of it oc­cur­ring else­where in Iraq.”

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