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Canada Won’t Send Weapons to the Iraqis to Fight ISIS

According to the defence minister, the embattled Iraqi army won't be getting any Canadian weapons from the Harper government.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
January 22, 2015, 5:48pm

Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Canada won't be equipping Kurdish or Iraqi fighters with the heavy weaponry they're requesting, at least not yet, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson tells VICE.

The minister was speaking from London, where he was meeting with a congregation of world leaders who assembled to discuss the effort to fight ISIS.

The meeting was the start of what Nicholson says will be regular meets among coalition nations in Iraq discussing intelligence sharing, humanitarian support, and military aid for the region.

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VICE asked Nicholson whether there was a discussion of sending weaponry to the under-equipped Iraqi and Kurdish fighters to aid in their tough fight with the Islamic State.

Nicholson said there was "a consideration of all aspects of the conflict and there was a recognition that the Iraqis and the Kurds need to continue to have support." He, however, wouldn't say whether Canadian weapons were on the table.

He did add that "there were no specific asks to any particular country."

But as VICE reported in November, the Kurds are adamant that without advanced weaponry, they'll never be able to quash the Islamic State.

"We have not yet received what we have requested," Kurdistan Foreign Affairs Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir told VICE. "We hope that the international coalition…will look into this situation to send what the Peshmerga need, because they are reliable."

The Kurds then repeated that call in London this week.

Bakir underlined that only a handful of Western states, like Germany and France, have kicked in effective weapons to the Peshmerga to counter well equipped ISIS forces. Canada, meanwhile, hasn't shipped arms to any of the forces combatting ISIS, opting instead to ferry Soviet-era weaponry from Eastern Europe to the Kurdistan region.

Nicholson indicates there is no renewed discussions on the Canadian side of changing its stance. Ottawa has long maintained arming any side of the conflict could end up seeing Canadian-made goods falling into the wrong hands.

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The Harper government is, however, sending surplus Canadian Forces gear to the Iraqi Security Forces.

Canada announced this week that it's shipping 6000 pieces of gear, mostly for cold weather conditions. Thus far, Canada kicked in $10 million in non-lethal aid to the Iraqi Security Forces.

The Iraqi Prime Minister was also in London for the talks. He has repeatedly requested more serious arms from the West in order to equip his forces, which have been weakened thanks to desertions and intense fighting with ISIS and other militias.

ISIS has pillaged huge arms caches from Iraqi forces, filled with American made and supplied weapons. Those stolen stockpiles include artillery, humvees, and various light weapons.

Nicholson also told VICE discussions at the London meeting is focusing on intelligence-gathering and sharing among the Western powers to avoid repeats of the attacks that struck Paris earlier this month.

"We recognized the importance of […] tipping-off each other, for instance if information comes with respect to either homegrown terrorists, illegal financing, that kind of thing," Nicholson said.

Canada has just opened up powers for its main spy agency, CSIS, to go abroad and run operations in foreign countries, employing CSEC and the NSA in the process.

Nicholson's London visit was underscored by confirmation from leadership of the Canadian Forces this week that the role of Canada's special operations troops in Iraq is more advanced than previously thought.

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Chief of Defence Staff General Tom Lawson released a statement Thursday morning acknowledging, "the situation on the ground has evolved" since the initial deployment of Canadian troops to Northern Iraq last September, and that they have increasingly been used to target ISIS positions.

The issue came to the forefront this week after a technical briefing by the Department of Defence revealed that Canadian Forces soldiers exchanged gunfire with ISIS fighters. The special operations forces, stationed in northern Iraq in an advising role for Iraqi security forces, had come under mortar and machine gun fire while on the front lines of coalition positions.

The soldiers effectively returned sniper fire, "neutralizing the mortar and the machine gun position," Brigadier-General Michael Rouleau told media on Monday.

Rouleau is the commander of the Canadian Special Forces. He confirmed for the first time that the over 69 special operations personnel under his command (on top of their training and advisory role), have been involved in pinpointing targets for CF-18 air strikes while on the ground, with the use of lasers.

"We enable these strikes by working with coalition aircraft and with the Iraqi security forces," Rouleau said. "To ensure that targets are legitimate and that the risks of collateral damage are mitigated."

While it was previously unknown exactly how close Canadian Forces were getting to the action, the briefing reveals Canadian Forces are sometimes on the rapidly-changing front lines.

Nicholson and Lawson, however, maintain Canadian troops are not in Iraq under a combat role.

"Our [Special Operations Forces] Personnel are not seeking to directly engage the enemy, but we are providing assistance to forces that are in combat," Lawson said in his statement.

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