Iraqi forces capture Kurdish-held city

KEN POLE  –  Oct 16, 2017

Hours after Iraqi government forces captured the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk on October 16th, Canada’s minister of National Mefence, Harjit Sajjan, told reporters that the federal government remains optimistic of a peaceful resolution of dispute over the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. He called the latest developments “internal issues that they have to resolve.”

A convoy of armored vehicles from Iraq's elite Counter-Terrorism Force, trained by the United States, seized Kirkuk's provincial government headquarters less than a day after the operation began. Casualties were reported on both sides but were understood to be limited.

Earlier, as the Iraqis advanced, Kurdish operators briefly shut down some 350,000 barrels per day of oil output at two large fields, but production resumed shortly thereafter when Iraq threatened to seize the resources.

Outside the House of Commons immediately after Question Period, Sajjan was asked how Canada was handling the situation, given that Canadian Armed Forces personnel had been working closely with the Kurdish regional military, the Peshmerga.

He replied that Canada remains committed to a unified Iraq so that it can concentrate on dealing with ISIS or Daesh. “Great work has been done with all parties of the coalition and the Iraqi forces, and we want to continue with that, so we’re encouraging all parties to focus on the main threat itself and […] resolve the situation quickly and peacefully.”

This includes working “within the Iraqi security forces” and “making sure that the Iraqi government is fully in the loop.” He added that “what scares me” is creating conditions that would foster any new terrorist insurgency. “That’s what happened in the past. So we not only want to defeat this threat, we want to actually prevent the situation for allow any new type of group to be formed as well.”

Sajjan demurred when asked whether Canada, having worked with Iraqi and Kurdish military, had any specific responsibility under the new situation in which the Iraqi government responded to a Kurdish referendum on independence by sending its troops into Kirkuk.

“The direct threat is not over,” he reiterated. “Great progress has been made since we revamped our mission into Iraq. I’m very proud of the work that the Canadian Armed Forces has done. I’ve always stated we want to work with the Iraqi security forces, work with a unified Iraq. Our leadership on the ground, even including the coalition, have a very good relationship with the Iraqi government, the Kurdish leadership as well. Anything that we do is about defeating Daesh, so we work very closely with all parties to making sure that any support that we provide is focused on the mission at hand, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

When it was suggested that Canada has been so focused on the ISIS/Daesh opposition that it has not considered issues “that everyone knew was coming” such as the Iraqi government’s fight with Kurdish separatists, the minister said yet again that ISIS/Daesh is the main threat.

“They pose a direct threat in the region” he said, adding “we will remain committed to defeating Daesh,” he said, pointing out that when he visited the region, he had stressed the need to look at the conditions from which ISIS emerged.

“As one general on the ground said, ‘right now Daesh is the son of Al-Qaeda’. We have to make sure that the conditions afterwards once we defeat Daesh are not created so that the grandson of Al-Qaeda is not created. So we’ve been looking at this for some time, and we look forward to that all parties involved can resolve this peacefully.”

He said the preferred focus for Canada going forward is “capacity-building.” That included building up the Iraqi security forces and a “whole of government approach” which also would involve domestic police services and the government’s bureaucracy “so that they actually can serve their citizens, so that will actually prevent any radical groups from actually forming again.”

Ken Pole

Canada's support for the Kurds brings unintended consequences (Feb 2016)

What is Canada's role in Iraq? (Nov 2016)