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Canada to send special operations personnel to Iraq

Prime Minister Stephen Harper holds a closing press conference at the NATO Summit in Newport, Wales on Friday, September 5, 2014.

SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada is dispatching up to 100 soldiers to northern Iraq to help battle the Islamic State militia group causing havoc in the region and Prime Minister Stephen Harper is warning the West's military involvement in this fight will escalate even further.

The Prime Minister's caution is a strong signal that Canada will also be contributing more to this battle in the weeks and months ahead

The Canadian Armed Forces special operations personnel being deployed to Iraq will be part of a U.S.-led coalition of 10 countries and will serve as military advisers to Kurdish forces battling the Islamic State. The militants, formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), have cut a swath of suffering across the region and imposed their own harsh brand of Islamic law on territory they've seized.

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"We, like our allies, have grown increasing alarmed in recent months by the growing power of ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and the carnage it is wreaking in its expansion," Mr. Harper said.

"It has become a grave danger to the security of the region, and if left unchecked, this lawless area will become a training ground for international terrorists."

However, Mr. Harper cautioned that military efforts Western countries have announced to date will not be enough to shut down Islamic State.

"This is far from truly turning back the advance of ISIL or diminishing its long-term threat," he told reporters after a summit of North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders concluded near Cardiff, Wales.

"Based on conversations that have been held here at NATO, I do expect that our allies are going to look at further steps to respond to this threat. We will evaluate those as we are made aware of the plans."

He hinted that Canada and its allies might have more to announce in coming days or weeks but did not elaborate on whether this might include air strikes. U.S. President Barack Obama, who has already used air power against the militants, has vowed to "degrade and destroy" Islamic State and ensure that "justice will be served" after the group beheaded two American journalists.

The Prime Minister was asked about the risk of mission creep – whereby military advisers find themselves called to do more than planned – and whether Canadians will be in harm's way. He said while the deployment is not a combat operation, it "is clearly not a mission without risk," Still, he said, the Canadian military feels the risks are acceptable and manageable.

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The initial deployment will be for a period of up to 30 days. It will be reassessed after that time, he said.

The Harper government, which is expected to fight an election campaign in less than a year, appears to be trying to build a multi-party consensus on the deployment to Iraq. That opposition support would inoculate the government from attacks if the public grows anxious about this military mission.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird brought opposition MPs with him on a surprise visit to Iraq this week and the Conservative government announced Friday it would be briefing other party leaders on the deployment. Mr. Baird and Defence Minister Rob Nicholson have pledged to appear before an all-party Commons committee to further explain the rationale for this new chapter in Canada's military history.

The emergence of Islamic State and a newly bellicose Russia were the chief matters facing NATO leaders at their summit. Alliance members approved a plan to reinvent NATO for the 21st century, making it more prepared to respond quickly to threats and subversive warfare of the kind practised by Moscow in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine.

This "readiness action plan" will feature a spearhead reaction force of 4,000 to 5,000 troops, designed to deploy within 48 hours and make NATO's presence felt in a hot spot even before hostilities explode. It will also include permanent supply hubs and forward operating bases that stretch across Eastern Europe.

The U.K. government announced it would offer 1,000 military personnel for this spearhead force but Mr. Harper declined to say what, if anything, Canada would supply, saying the plan needs to be more fleshed out first. Ottawa supports the concept, he said, but "at the moment, frankly we have very little in the way of detail."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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