OTTAWA — New Democrats are refusing to back Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to send special forces commandos into northern Iraq.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says it’s the only responsible position to take, given the government’s refusal to provide details of the deployment or to allow parliamentarians to vote on the matter.
Harper has confirmed that Canada has sent 69 special forces commandos to Iraq as part of a counter-terrorism campaign against the extremist al-Qaida splinter group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
He maintains the deployment, which is to be reviewed within 30 days, is not a combat mission, that the commandos will only advise and assist Iraqi forces and Kurdish fighters who are resisting ISIL forces in northern Iraq.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is backing the deployment.
But Mulcair says he can’t support the mission when the government refuses even to reveal precisely when the commandos arrived in Iraq or when the 30 days will be up.
“We’re saying that the only responsible position now with what we have available as information is to say No to Mr. Harper’s mission in Iraq for one good and simple reason,” Mulcair said Wednesday.
“They’re refusing to have a vote, they’re refusing to provide full information, there’s an artistic lack of clarity around what they’re defining as a non-combat mission.”
The war in Afghanistan began in the same way, with a small contingent of special forces commandos, but wound up being “the longest war we’ve ever been involved in” at the cost of 160 lives, Mulcair argued.
“So yes, we’re very, very concerned about the slippery slope that we appear to be on (in Iraq). This is a classic situation where it’s going to expand.”
Trudeau acknowledged the deployment is likely to go beyond 30 days, given the “scale of the devastation and the humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq.” Nevertheless, he threw his support behind the mission.
“I support the current mission as designed, with the caveat — the important caveat — that we continue to have parliamentary oversight, that we continue to have debates on this mission to make sure that it continues to be a mission that Canadians understand is important.”
Trudeau called the situation in northern Iraq “a humanitarian catastrophe,” with hundreds of thousands of displaced people whom Canada has a “responsibility to protect.”
“Canadians want the Canadian government to continue to be a force for peace in the world in a way that is consistent with our values,” he said.
“And for me, training (the) local army and providing a support role, non-combat, is perfectly acceptable as something that Canada has expertise in and should be able to share.”