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There are consequences to joining the war against the Islamic State

All eyes were on Ottawa Wednesday, with good reason. Canada was experiencing its first blowback from joining the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It's not likely to be the last. Indeed, take a look beyond our own capital to put those events in some perspective.

At just about the time Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was making his way to Parliament's Centre Block Wednesday morning, leaving Corporal Nathan Cirillo dying on the steps of the National War Memorial, another angry, disturbed young man was carrying out another act of terror 9,000 km away in Jerusalem.

Abdel Rahman al-Shaludi, a Palestinian from the Silwan neighbourhood adjacent to the Old City, was driving his car alongside the city's light rail transit, when the train came to a halt at the North Jerusalem stop of Ammunition Hill. As passengers disembarked, Mr. al-Shaludi turned his vehicle to the right, drove up onto the raised track platform and mowed down a line of people walking away from the train. Three-month-old Haya Zissel-Brown was killed and seven other people injured.

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Mr. al-Shaludi reportedly has ties to the Islamic resistance movement Hamas, which welcomed his action.

In Gaza, just a few hours earlier, four-year-old Muhammad Sami Abu Jrad was killed at play in his Beit Hanoun neighbourhood when he came into contact with unexploded ordnance and accidentally triggered an explosion. The bomb was apparently left over from Israel's war against Hamas this past summer. Young Muhammad was the 10th person to be killed by such weapons in the past two months.

Elsewhere, Wednesday, in Baghdad, 35 people were killed by two massive car bombs. One was detonated outside a maternity hospital in the Shia district of Sadr City; the other outside a pharmacy in Karrada, a mixed neighbourhood with a Shia majority and a smattering of Christians. Islamic State, which is targeting Shiites and Christians, is believed to have been responsible for both blasts.

Just the day before, 39 Iraqi civilians were killed when a trio of car bombs exploded in Baghdad. And on Monday, 78 people were killed when three car bombs were detonated in the holy Shia city of Karbala, and another exploded outside a Shia mosque in Baghdad.

This is the war Canada has joined. Since the start of October about 500 Iraqi civilians have been killed in such acts of terrorism, mostly at the hands of Islamic State, the radical group that may well have influenced Canadians Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Martin Couture-Rouleau, the man who ran down two soldiers Monday in Quebec, killing one of them.

When a country goes to war with a group such as Islamic State or al-Qaeda the consequences can be felt far and wide.

In Iraq in 2004, a year after the U.S.-led coalition toppled Saddam Hussein, I had a rare opportunity to interview a prominent Sunni leader Hareth al-Dhari, head of the country's Islamic Scholars Committee, at his home near Abu Ghraib, outside Baghdad. Dr. Al-Dhari, who was a kind of spiritual leader to al-Qaeda of Iraq, told me in no uncertain terms that he did not trust Western journalists and refused to meet U.S. and other correspondents. But he said that Canada was different.

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"The Canadian people did not want to invade Iraq," Dr. al-Dhari said. "And their government listened to the people… unlike the governments in Spain and Italy," he added rather ominously.

If a decision not to join a conflict can affect how people from that country (like me) are treated, then the decision to go to war with one of the parties to that conflict can have an even more profound effect … as Spain learned the hard way, Dr. al-Dhari was saying.

Indeed, just three months before that 2004 interview, a series of bombs exploded one March morning on two Madrid commuter trains killing 191 people and wounding some 1,800 others.

Al-Qaeda, which also was operating in Iraq in 2004, was believed to have directed the Madrid attacks exacting its price for Spain deploying 1,400 troops to assist the United States in the occupation of Iraq.

Within weeks of those bombings, a newly elected Spanish government withdrew all Spanish troops from Iraq. In the current operation against Islamic State, Spain has limited its contribution to humanitarian relief and assisting Turkey to defend itself. It will not take part in any fighting.

Canada, however, has said "yes" to joining the battle in Iraq.

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Unlike 2003, when Ottawa declined to participate, Iraq this time asked for help in combatting IS forces occupying parts of the country and threatening others. Another factor has been the revulsion most Canadians feel at the behaviour of IS fighters dealing with captured innocents.

And, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in introducing a motion before Parliament: Canada, along with some other Western countries, has been directly threatened by Islamic State in a speech given by its leader earlier this year.

So, Canada, with the endorsement of Parliament, has chosen to act.

That's all well and good, but when you go to war, even in a distant land, you must be prepared for the consequences.

On Wednesday, a lone gunman was able to make his way to the centre of Canadian government, shaking an entire nation. Imagine what might have happened had the assailant been part of a larger more sophisticated operation. Is Canada ready for that?

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