Canadian troops sus­pend op­er­a­tions in Iraq fol­low­ing Kur­dish-Iraqi fight­ing

The Prince George Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - Lee BERTHI­AUME

OTTAWA — Canadian sol­diers in Iraq have been or­dered to tem­po­rar­ily sus­pend all op­er­a­tions with Iraqi and Kur­dish forces fol­low­ing a se­ries of bat­tles be­tween the two groups.

The sur­prise move comes amid ac­cu­sa­tions Canada and its al­lies have failed the coun­try over the past three years by ig­nor­ing its many po­lit­i­cal, re­li­gious and eco­nomic di­vi­sions while fight­ing the Is­lamic State.

Canadian spe­cial forces have pro­vided train­ing, ad­vice and as­sis­tance to both the Iraqi mil­i­tary and Kur­dish pesh­merga for the past three years as part of the fight against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants.

But the one-time al­lies have been fight­ing each other for more than a week after the Kurds held a con­tro­ver­sial in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum and Bagh­dad re­sponded by seiz­ing con­trol of con­tested ter­ri­tory.

Mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said Fri­day that the Canadian Forces would con­tinue to sup­port the U.S.-led coali­tion fight­ing against the Is­lamic State through the pro­vi­sion of med­i­cal aid, in­tel­li­gence and trans­porta­tion.

Canada has about 50 med­i­cal per­son­nel and a tac­ti­cal he­li­copter de­tach­ment in north­ern Iraq, as well as sev­eral dozen in­tel­li­gence ex­perts, a sur­veil­lance air­craft, a trans­port plane and an air-to-air re­fu­eller in Kuwait.

But the ap­prox­i­mately 200 Canadian spe­cial forces in Iraq have been told to sit tight and will not pro­vide any train­ing or as­sis­tance to Iraqi or Kur­dish forces un­til re­la­tions be­tween the two sides im­prove.

“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,” spokesman Col. Jay Janzen said.

“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. In the in­terim, they will con­tinue to mon­i­tor the sit­u­a­tion and plan for the next po­ten­tial phases of op­er­a­tional ac­tiv­ity.”

While Fri­day’s de­ci­sion to sus­pend op­er­a­tions with Kur­dish and Iraqi forces was a sur­prise, the fact the two sides have come to blows has long been pre­dicted by ob­servers and ex­perts.

In fact, a se­nior rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Iraq’s Kur­dish gov­ern­ment ac­cused Canada and its al­lies this week of fail­ing to ad­dress the many long-stand­ing di­vi­sions that led to the Is­lamic State’s birth – and which are threat­en­ing to erupt again. Canada and its al­lies have been rel­a­tively quiet about what is hap­pen­ing, with De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan echo­ing U.S. state­ments urg­ing all sides last week to fo­cus on fin­ish­ing the fight against the Is­lamic State.

But Bayan Sami Ab­dul Rah­man, the Kurds’ top diplo­mat in Wash­ing­ton, said it’s past time the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity end its “laser fo­cus” on the Is­lamic State and be­gin to ad­dress Iraq’s many un­der­ly­ing prob­lems.

“‘We are laser-fo­cused on (the Is­lamic State).’ That has been the mantra of the past few years,” Ab­dul Rah­man told The Canadian Press dur­ing a visit to Ottawa this week. “But to con­tinue to say we’re laser-fo­cused on (the Is­lamic State) is miss­ing the ob­vi­ous truth of what is hap­pen­ing in Iraq.”

While many fear a war be­tween Bagh­dad and the Kurds, there are also con­cerns about the slow rate of re­con­struc­tion in many Sunni-dom­i­nated ar­eas lib­er­ated from the Is­lamic State, and Iran’s grow­ing in­flu­ence in Bagh­dad.


Iraqi se­cu­rity forces gather out­side the Kur­dish-held city of Al­tun Kupri, Iraq, on Oct. 19.

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