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CF-18's in CFB Cold Lake, AB September 28, 2010 are line up on the tarmac before take off.

John Lehmann

The number of Canadian military advisers deployed to Iraq is rising as the Harper government defends its plan to send CF-18 fighters to strike Islamic State militants by telling Parliament that humanitarian aid alone is an insufficient response to the Mideast crisis.

A source said Monday that additional special forces troops have departed for northern Iraq and will boost Canada's total deployed there to 69 from 26. Ottawa authorized as many as 69 elite soldiers last month to help Iraqi and Kurdish forces combat Islamic State jihadis but only about two dozen were initially deployed because that was all that was originally needed.


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The Conservative government kicked off a special debate in the Commons Monday over its plan to join air strikes against Islamic State militants by announcing $10-million in aid to help victims of sexual violence and other human rights abuses committed by the jihadi group.

But Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said humanitarian aid does not replace the need for air strikes.

"We must be careful not to draw a line between security and humanitarian assistance," Mr. Baird said. "That is not just a false distinction, it is a dangerous one."

The Conservatives face a divided Commons with both the NDP and Liberals, which together hold about 44 per cent of the seats in the House, rejecting the air strikes and urging a focus on humanitarian aid. A Conservative motion endorsing an aerial combat mission of as many as six months is expected to be put to a vote Tuesday night and the Tory majority in the Commons means it will easily pass.

Within a matter of weeks, six Canadian CF-18 fighter-bombers, two surveillance planes and a refuelling tanker aircraft are expected to join allies in launching air strikes against Islamic State forces in Iraq. Ottawa is not divulging where in the region Canada's contribution will be based, but key options include Kuwait, where Ottawa has a warehouse of military supplies, and the United Arab Emirates.

The deployment of Canadian military advisers in northern Iraq, which began in early September, is also being extended for as much as half a year.

Mr. Baird criticized the Liberal Party for opposing the combat mission, saying the country's history is marked by moments in which the Canadian military heeded the call instead of letting allies do the work.

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"Anyone who accepts the premise that [the Islamic State] is a threat to our security while leaving the fight … to others is abrogating their role of responsibility and their duty of care," the Foreign Affairs minister said.

Official Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair, chief of the New Democrats, made a plea for peace and humanitarian aid in the Commons as he rejected Canada's planned air strikes.

The NDP is proposing an amendment to the government motion on launching air strikes, one that would replace Canada's combat mission with a plan to instead help by transporting weapons to the war zone.

"The tragedy in Iraq and Syria will not end with another western-led invasion in that region. It will end by helping the people of Iraq and Syria to build the political institutions and security capabilities that they need to oppose these threats themselves," Mr. Mulcair said.

He said the priority right now for people in Iraq and Syria is humanitarian aid, adding the NDP rejects the notion that "more bombing is a way to peace in a region that has already seen too much war."

Mr. Mulcair added that it also makes no sense for the Conservative government to announce as it did Friday that it would launch air strikes in Syria against Islamic State forces as if it had the permission of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

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"He is a genocidal maniac and we should not be giving him any credibility," Mr. Mulcair said of Mr. al-Assad, who has become an international pariah for drawing his country into a civil war and attacking Syrians.

The Conservative government had little to say during Monday's debate about what precautions would be taken to prevent bombs from going astray and killing innocent people in Iraq. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan caused by NATO forces' air strikes played a key role in turning the local population against the military alliance.

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said the air force will "live up to the highest standards."

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau asked questions during the debate, but Liberal MP Marc Garneau led for his party in the Commons.

Mr. Garneau urged the government to adopt a compromise approach.

"We are not prepared, because the government has not made the case, to vote in favour of a combat mission. However, we are prepared to play a military role of a non-combat nature," Mr. Garneau said, without providing specific details about the Liberal plan.

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Mr. Garneau said there is a danger the Conservative-backed mission could lead to a prolonged military intervention.

"Getting in seems very straightforward. Getting out is much less so. The right approach is certainly not to say that Canada will go into Iraq with strike aircraft, but may pull out in six months."

While the opposition is united against the government on the Iraq mission, there is also wrangling between the NDP and the Liberal Party over each party's stand. Mr. Mulcair argued that while the Liberals are currently opposed to the government's motion, they will face a political cost for endorsing the 30-day mission involving advisers last month.

"The Liberals can try to do whatever they want today to put that toothpaste back in the tube. They supported the government for the mission in Iraq and that will be a part of history they will have to live with," Mr. Mulcair said.

Mr. Garneau replied that "the key word there is 'non-combat,' " explaining the Liberals never endorsed air strikes.

Voting on the mission Tuesday will also include a vote on the NDP proposal to amend the Conservative motion endorsing a combat mission.

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A government source said Tories will not allow amendments, as proposed by the New Democrats, that would scrap the combat mission or call for monthly reporting to a Commons committee on the cost of the deployment.

With reports from The Canadian Press

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