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  • June 30th, 2017

2-year extension of Iraq mission lacks transparency and oversight

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis meets with Canada’s Minister of Defense Harjit Sajjan Feb. 6, 2017, at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. (DOD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

In a June 29th press release, the Department of National Defence announced a two year, $371 million extension to the Canadian mission in Iraq. The mission will now run until at least March 2019 and gives Defence Chief General Jonathan Vance authority to “deploy capabilities as needs arise,” including the option of sending up to 850 military personnel to the region.

The opaque way in which the Trudeau government announced this important decision belies its stated commitment to government transparency and accountability. It came after Parliament had recessed for the summer, two days before Canada’s 150 celebrations kick off, and without having been mentioned, let alone debated, in Parliament.

 “This major extension comes amid serious questions about the nature of the mission…It is deeply troubling that the Liberal government made this announcement after the House of Commons has adjourned for the summer.” (NDP leader Tom Mulcair)

While Canada’s primary role in the region in past years has been to train Kurdish forces in combat techniques, the new extension acknowledges that the mission will undergo significant changes in coming months and opens the door for training “new potential partners within the Iraqi security forces.”

 “As the situation on the ground evolves, we must continually re-evaluate how Canada’s military can be most effective in support of the Coalition. I am confident these additional authorities will help us be more agile and flexible as we respond to the needs of our allies and partners.” (General Jonathan Vance)

Canada’s non-combat “advise-and-assist” role in Iraq has already been repeatedly called into question, most recently after reports revealed that a Canadian Special Forces sniper set a world record for longest confirmed kill last month against an ISIS militant.

Canadian forces in Iraq face a dangerous and ever-changing security situation. Daesh’s self-proclaimed caliphate has been shrinking rapidly, having lost 47% of its territory since January 2017, and it is expected that Mosul, their last major stronghold, will be retaken in the next few days.

 “The situation on the ground in Iraq is about to radically change with the impending demise of the territorial phase of the Islamic State enterprise. Canadian military trainers will find themselves not only confronting a diffused Islamic state insurgency but a Kurdish independence movement and deep sectarian divisions between the Shia-controlled Iraqi government and the Sunni majority population.” (RI President Peggy Mason)

This is precisely the kind of changed circumstances that requires a full debate and discussion in Parliament, following a detailed review and assessment in the Standing Committee on National Defence. Instead the Trudeau government appears to be following President Trump’s lead –  avoiding scrutiny by delegating authority for updating the mission in light of evolving circumstances to the Canadian military.

For the Rideau Institute press release, click: here.

Photo credit: U.S. DOD

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