Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - Two of Canada’s military cargo planes will soon be ferrying weapons to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq — and the Harper government sounds prepared to do even more to counter the “barbarous attacks” of hard-line Islamic militants.
A CC-177 Globemaster and a CC-130J Hercules transport will begin shuttling arms provided by allies to the Iraqi city of Irbil over the next few days, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.
And a least one defence analyst says Canada should be prepared to follow Britain’s lead and dispatch CH-147F Chinook helicopters to further help allied nations deliver relief supplies or facilitate humanitarian evacuations.
The cargo flights, which include some 30 air force personnel from Canadian Forces Base Trenton, east of Toronto, will continue as long as there is equipment and supplies to move.
Harper convened an ad-hoc meeting of the federal cabinet committee that oversees national security on Friday and ministers got behind the plan, describing the march of hardline Islamists through northern Iraq as “a serious threat to stability in the region, as well as to global security.”
The U.S. and France are already sending weapons, while Britain has indicated it is also prepared to help arm the Kurdish forces fighting militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
Germany is also preparing to send military aid.
“This support, which will be provided in close co-ordination with our allies, will enable Kurdish forces to provide effective protection to Iraqis faced with the barbarous attacks of ISIL,” Harper said.
“Canada will not stand idly by while ISIL continues its murder of innocent civilians and religious minorities. We continue to monitor the situation in Iraq and are prepared to provide further assistance.”
The al-Qaida splinter group’s hardline militants have already seized large parts of northern Iraq, sending 400,000 people fleeing for their lives. Many of those trying to escape are Yazidis, Christians and other minorities.
It’s high time the debate about what to do in Iraq moved beyond the old arguments about the U.S. invasion and occupation in 2003, which many blame for the current instability, said retired colonel George Petrolekas.
“I don’t buy the argument that it’s not our problem: ‘We didn’t break it, so we shouldn’t have to fix it,'” said Petrolekas, who sits on the board of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute.
“We have a moral responsibility to try.”
After arming Kurdish forces, Petrolekas said, western nations will face a prolonged humanitarian crisis and a protracted battle — albeit through proxies — to extricate ISIL from northern Iraq and possibly even Syria.
Dispatching Chinooks to stand by for evacuation or aid missions just seems like sensible contingency planning, he added.
“It’s a low-risk mission, if we had to pull people out.”
The help announced Friday is in addition to $5 million in humanitarian aid committed last weekend by the Conservative government.
Western nations need to agree on a coherent strategy to defeat ISIL, and to consider the knock-on effects of arming the Kurds, who have fought for independence in their region from both Iraq and Turkey, Petrolekas said.
Nouri al-Maliki, the embattled prime minister of Iraq, announced Thursday that he was stepping aside and will accept the candidacy of rival Haider al-Abadi, who was nominated last week by the Iraqi president to form a government.
While Harper did not address al-Malki’s departure directly, he did say that political stability is key to revolving the crisis.
“We call on Iraq’s leadership to take immediate steps to counter ISIL and the terrorists that operate under that banner,” Harper said.
“We stand ready to support a new Iraqi government that addresses the needs of all Iraqis, regardless of ethnic origin or religious belief.”
Friday’s announcement came just as the Department of National Defence revealed the imminent departure of its final flight of non-lethal military aid to Ukraine. Over the last week, the air force has been shuttling spare body armour, helmets, medical kits, tents and surveillance equipment to forces battling pro-Russian separatists in that region.
It’s not the first time Canada’s air force has been called upon for its moving capacity.
Canada helped move French troops and gear to the west African country of Mali in early 2013 after al-Qaida-affiliated rebels overran the northern portion of that country.
Those flights went on over several weeks.