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Trudeau extends Iraq mission to bolster NAFTA negotiations

A Canadian Armed Forces gunner on a CH-146 Griffon helicopter in northern Iraq, November 2016.

The Trudeau government announced late last week that Canadian troops would stay in Iraq for another two years.

Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom comments, “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ill-considered efforts to mollify Donald Trump continue apace. The decision to keep sending Canadian soldiers to the war in Iraq is just the latest version. The federal government’s entire defence posture and much of its foreign policy is focused on convincing the U.S. president that Canada is a loyal American ally. Ottawa’s hope is that if Trump thinks Canada is pulling its weight militarily, he will order his negotiators to go easy on this country during the upcoming North American Free Trade Agreement talks.”

The Guardian notes, “Canada has about 200 special forces soldiers operating in northern Iraq supported by a combat hospital, a helicopter detachment, a surveillance plane and an air-to-air refueling aircraft.” A C-130J Hercules transport aircraft will also now being added to the contingent there.

That article adds, “Trudeau’s Liberals withdrew six Canadian fighter jets from the coalition in 2016, fulfilling a campaign promise, but tripled the number of military trainers in Iraq to 210. Hundreds of ground personnel were also deployed to support two surveillance aircraft and a refueling jet, as well as a handful of tactical helicopters. The mission extension to the end of March 2019 – the same year Trudeau goes to the polls to seek a second mandate – allows for a total number of 850 soldiers tasked to the coalition.”

A CBC article notes three concerns being raised:

  1. “The former Conservative government was very deliberate when it chose in 2014 to link Canada’s training in Iraq with the Kurds, who occupy a semi-autonomous region in the north. The U.S. led the rebuilding of Iraqi security forces [which] have been accused of battlefield human rights abuse more often than the Kurds, and experts note that some units are more loyal to the central government in Baghdad than others.”

  2. “Most the U.S. training of Iraqi forces has taken place in bases in southern and central parts of the war-torn country. The decision on Thursday means Canadians could expand their presence beyond the north enclave where they have operated for the last three years…”

  3. “Canadian and allied special forces soldiers have provided not only advice, but covering fire — something that prompted fresh political debate in Canada about whether the country is involved in a combat mission.”

After pressure from Trump for NATO member countries to spend more on the military, the Trudeau government announced in early June that it would increase spending by 73 per cent from $18.9 billion in 2016-17 to $32.7 billion in 2026-27. This means $62.3 billion more will be spent on the military over the next 20 years, with $6.6 billion of that to be spent within the next five years.

In February 2016, the Trudeau government announced it would be spending $1.6 billion in Iraq over the following three years.

To put that spending in another context, the Liberals have allocated $2.24 billion over five years to address drinking water advisories on First Nation reserves in Canada (even though a ‘National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater Systems’ conducted by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada in 2011 estimated that it would cost $4.7 billion over a ten year period to address the problem.)

War spending may be on the agenda again when Trudeau meets with Trump at the G7 summit in Hamburg, Germany this coming July 7-8.

Further reading
Would Trudeau send Canadian soldiers back to Afghanistan to save NAFTA? (May 30, 2017)