Mulcair on Iraq: 'We think it's wrong for Canada to be involved'
Michelle Zilio, CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, March 22, 2015 10:48AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, March 22, 2015 1:32PM EDT
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair says his party would pull Canadian troops out of Iraq if elected, as the party does not think Canada should be involved in a U.S.-led war.
While the NDP has opposed the current Canadian mission in Iraq, Mulcair clarified the party's plans for the mission should it form government on CTV's Question Period.
"If they (the government) extend (the mission) for a year, despite our opposition to it, yes, when we form government on October 19, we would bring our troops back home," Mulcair said.
In particular, Mulcair took issue with the fact the mission against ISIS falls under U.S. leadership.
"When it is a UN mission, when it is a NATO mission, we are open to it. But here, this is an American-led mission," said Mulcair. "We think it's wrong for Canada to be involved."
Proposed mission extension, expansion
Mulcair's comments come as the Conservatives prepare to present a motion in the House of Commons next week to extend and expand Canada's involvement in Iraq.
Although Harper did not clearly indicate whether that expansion would mean Canadian troops going into Syria, he said the current mission has “laid open” the possibility of doing so.
While the NDP has said it will not support the mission extension, the Liberals have not been clear on their position – and they fully admit that.
"We haven't taken a position yet," said Liberal Defence critic Joyce Murray on Question Period. "It's speculation right now as to what the government is going to propose."
While Murray said the Liberals think Canada should play a part in the fight against ISIS, she refused to say what kind of role the party would entertain.
Bezan accused the Liberals of flip-flopping on the issue.
"We're going to watch the Liberals reinvent themselves here, I suspect, because they have put their wet finger in the wind and have noticed that Canadians are supportive of this mission," said James Bezan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defence.
While Bezan called for multi-party support of the mission extension, NDP Deputy Leader Megan Leslie said her party isn't budging on its opposition to the proposal.
"It looks to me like the prime minister is willing to sleepwalk his way into a wider mission here. We went from having a one-month deployment to assist, and now we have troops on the frontlines and there's potential to drop bombs," said Leslie.
Canadian troops deployed to Iraq last September to join U.S. troops in advising the Iraqis on how to address the threat posed by ISIS. Later that month, Canada received a request for additional support from the U.S. government. Following a debate in the House of Commons, the government announced in October that Canada would help conduct air strikes and continue to train Iraqi troops for six months in a non-combat role.
But the government faced heavy questioning about the “non-combat” mission when the Canadian Forces revealed in the new year that Canadian troops had exchanged fire with ISIS. Concerns grew when the first Canadian soldier, Sgt. Andrew Doiron, was killed in a “friendly fire” incident earlier this month.
It remains unclear what the expansion and extension of Canada’s mission in Iraq will look like. Those questions will be answered when the government tables its motion in the House of Commons this week.
A role for Special Forces
Retired Canadian Maj.-Gen. David Fraser, who commanded troops in Afghanistan, told Question Period that the Canadian Forces have the ability to expand its role in the fight against ISIS. And he said Canada absolutely has enough fighter jets to expand its role in the region.
"Just because we've got ones that are in Iraq doesn't mean that you can't use those ones over in Syria if they decide to go over there," said Fraser. "The other (option) is you can actually put more fighter (jets) into the theatre to do both missions simultaneously."
Fraser said Canadian Special Forces could also play a role on the ground in Syria, such as laser-guiding potential air strikes.
Fraser said Canadian military planners have probably presented a number of options to the government for a mission extension and expansion. One possibility, he said, would be to replicate the current Iraqi mission in "adjacent regions."
"They'll give the political authorities as many options as they can to pick and choose what they want, with the advantages and disadvantages of each one," said Fraser.
But Fraser still has a major question about an expanded role, especially into Syria: "Which fighters are we going to align ourselves with?"
And if the government does expand the mission into Syria, Fraser expects them to deploy more Canadian troops.
"69 Special Forces in Iraq are doing a great job. But trying to expand the mission to another region will probably extend the capabilities of the 69 beyond what they're capable of doing. You can't be in two places at one time."