Lethbridge Herald

Difference of opinion



Federal opposition parties are divided over whether Canada should press ahead with its five-year-old mission in Iraq or start bringing home its soldiers, some of whom were forced to take cover last week from Iranian ballistic missiles as tensions in the region escalated.

The Conservati­ves have indicated they support Canada’s ongoing involvemen­t in Iraq and the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, saying the group continues to pose a threat to the West despite having lost much of its territory and strength over the past five years.

“The work’s not done and we need to make sure that we rid the region of (ISIL) permanentl­y,” Conservati­ve defence critic James Bezan said. “If we pull out early, the same thing could happen in Iraq as last time, in that it becomes a safe haven for (ISIL) and other terrorist organizati­ons.”

The Liberal government says it plans to resume the entire mission once the security situation improves.

The New Democrats say they support Canada’s efforts to train Iraqi forces through the NATO military alliance, but they want the Liberal government to withdraw the estimated 200 special-forces soldiers who have been working in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition since 2014.

The secrecy that has surrounded the specialfor­ces mission is one of the reasons for the demand, said NDP foreign affairs critic Jack Harris, noting long-standing questions about what the troops are actually doing, including whether they are — or have been — involved in combat remain unanswered.

“But also the situation in terms of what we’re dealing with here. If you look at (U.S. President Donald) Trump’s moves in Iran in the last 10 days, we now have a very unpredicta­ble partner in Mr. Trump and the Americans ... and we think that’s a dangerous place for Canadians to be.”

The divergent views follow not only an extremely explosive and unpredicta­ble week, which saw the U.S. and Iran come to the brink of war, but also mixed assessment­s in recent months of the progress in training the Iraqi military and eradicatin­g ISIL.

The Pentagon’s top watchdog painted a gloomy picture in November about the five-year-old fight against ISIL, warning the U.S. withdrawal from Syria and subsequent Turkish offensive had let the organizati­on regroup and strengthen­ed its ability to plan attacks against the West.

Yet the report by the U.S. Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General also warned that Iraqi security forces continue to rely heavily on American and other allies when taking the fight to ISIL, raising questions about the effectiven­ess of military-training efforts.

Canada’s mission in Iraq has two main elements, the first of which involves about 200 troops who have been training local forces through NATO since October 2018 to fight ISIL. Canada is leading that mission, which is based largely in the south of the country around the capital Baghdad.

A similar number of Canadian special-forces soldiers have been working in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition since 2014. Officials have said their most recent focus has been on helping Iraqi counter-terror units root out any remaining ISIL cells in the north.

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