Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Analysts Pan Canada's Plan to Arm Kurdish Fighters in Northern Iraq

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Analysts Pan Canada's Plan to Arm Kurdish Fighters in Northern Iraq

Article excerpt

Analysts pan Canada's plan to arm Kurds

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OTTAWA - The government is facing calls to reconsider its plan to arm Kurdish fighters with automatic weapons and mortars because they could fall into enemy hands or be used to harm innocent civilians.

A number of analysts are warning that Canada's decision could have long-term consequences, even if it does assist its best ally on the ground in the fight against the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Canada will triple its contingent of 69 special forces trainers working with Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq -- part of a retooled contribution that will also see CF-18 fighter jets end their bombing sorties there and in Syria.

A recent report by Amnesty International accused the Kurds of bulldozing and burning down thousands of Arab homes in northern Iraq in an apparent attempt to uproot them.

"The news that an increased contingent of Canadian troops will be involved in training and providing support to Peshmerga forces, therefore, potentially raises serious human rights concerns," said Alex Neve, the head of Amnesty's Canadian branch.

It's crucial that Canadian troops receive comprehensive training in international humanitarian law so that "Canadian troops do not in any way become complicit in operations which breach international law," Neve said.

Jordan Owens, a spokesman for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, said Canadian troops in Iraq have received legal training on armed-conflict laws and will report on any abuses and will be vigilant in their responsibilities, "including how to prevent and report incidents or abuses."

Thomas Juneau, a University of Ottawa Middle East security specialist, said arming the Kurds could lead to short-term gains, but the long-term pain of the region as well.

"In the short term it makes sense, but in the long term it's a risky move," said Juneau.

"The Kurds in Iraq and in Syria are among the most reliable fighting forces on the ground against Islamic State," but they have aspirations for a country of their own, he warned, meaning Canada may be "playing against our long-term objective" of a united and stable Iraq. …

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