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Canada to send CF-18s, take combat role against Islamic State in Iraq

Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes a point during a question-and-answer session on Thursday in Brampton, Ont.

Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada is heading to war with Islamic State militants in Iraq.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will unveil plans in Parliament Friday to send CF-18 fighters, refuelling tankers and surveillance aircraft to join what the government plans to describe as a "counter-terrorism operation."

(Who are Islamic State? Get caught up with The Globe's primer)

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A vote on this military action will be held Monday, the government says. That gives Parliament one day to debate Canada's first combat deployment since the Libyan air campaign in 2011. Canada will join an international coalition led by the United States, which has been launching air strikes against Islamic State targets.

In his address to the Commons on Friday, Mr. Harper is going to lay out the case for taking part in air strikes and offer what the government says will be a detailed description of the mission. He will also commit to further humanitarian aid to the region.

But Mr. Harper will face a deeply divided Parliament when he makes his pitch for a combat mission that is not expected to garner support from the NDP or the Liberal Party.

Military sources said CF-18 fighters could be ready to depart Canada and arrive at a staging base within 24 hours. The government will deploy either four or six CF-18s.

The Conservatives won the support of the major opposition parties for an air-strike campaign in Libya in 2011, but they are facing an uphill battle in their efforts to garner cross-partisan support for the measures they will present to Canadians on Friday.

But the partisan back-and-forth is increasingly bitter in Canada. On Thursday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he sees no reason to vote in favour of Canadian air strikes, using an innuendo to deride the eventual deployment of Canada's "aging warplanes."

"Why aren't we talking more about the kind of humanitarian aid that Canada can and must be engaged in, rather than, you know, trying to whip out our CF-18s and show them how big they are," Mr. Trudeau said, with a flick of the hand, after a speech in Ottawa.

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The Conservatives and the NDP accused Mr. Trudeau of engaging in "juvenile humour" despite the serious issues at hand. But the two parties also went at each other in the House over the proper mix of humanitarian and military reaction to deal with Islamic State fighters who have been found to use rape, mass executions and abductions as they take control of a large swath of Iraq.

The British Parliament approved air strikes in Iraq with overwhelming support last week, and a new Ipsos-Reid poll found that 64 per cent of Canadians approved of Canadian air strikes in Iraq, while 36 per cent of respondents were opposed.

The NDP has been pestering the government for details on the current non-combat mission in Iraq and any future deployment, fuelling the anger of Defence Minister Rob Nicholson.

"ISIL is a terrorist group that brutalizes and murders innocent people," Mr. Nicholson said during Question Period, using a former name for the Islamic State. "That is why we are contemplating another mission in that part of the world, and the members opposite should support us on these missions."

The Conservatives are arguing that in other parts of the world, political parties of all stripes are endorsing the military coalition. On Thursday, Turkey's parliament approved a motion that gives the government new powers to launch military incursions into Syria and Iraq, and to allow foreign forces to use its territory for possible operations against IS fighters.

Mr. Trudeau said there is a need for humanitarian aid to deal with the crisis in Iraq, but added he has "serious concerns" about the potential for Canadian participation in air strikes.

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"Unlike prime ministers for decades before him, Mr. Harper has made no effort to build a non-partisan case for war. Instead he dares us to oppose his war, staking out not moral territory but political territory," Mr. Trudeau said.

Mr. Trudeau said he hasn't made up his mind on endorsing the expansion of Canada's military mission, but party officials added it would take a massive shift in the government's handling of the matter to obtain Liberal support.

After Question Period, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said the Liberals should make up their minds on the best way to deal with IS.

"Over the last seven days, I have counted five different Liberal positions, in addition to the juveniles jokes from Justin Trudeau," Mr. Mulcair said.

With reports from Bill Curry and the Associated Press

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About the Authors
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

Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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