The special forces Canada is planning to send to Iraq will be stationed in the country’s north and are expected to be deployed once final arrangements have been made with the Iraqi government.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on Friday that Canada would send dozens of troops to the conflict-torn country to assist the Iraqi government and security forces with their fight against the Islamic State. A government source said between 50 and 100 Canadian advisers will be deployed.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said on Sunday that the Canadian troops would be deployed to northern Iraq, but declined to give a more precise location for security reasons. Jason MacDonald said they will be sent once arrangements are finalized with the Iraqi government, adding, “We expect that to happen very soon.”
While arrangements are being made through the Iraqi government, the support will be focused on Kurdish fighters who are fighting the Islamic State in the country’s north. The militia group has taken control of large portions of Iraq and Syria and claimed responsibility in recent weeks for the gruesome killings of two American journalists.
The federal government has said that Canada will work with the United States to provide advice during a 30-day period and emphasized that Canada would not be involved in combat. However, Mr. Harper suggested on Friday that Canada’s role could change in the future as its allies consider what more should be done to respond to the threat posed by the Islamic State.
The opposition NDP has called for a debate and vote in Parliament before troops are deployed, saying Canadians should have a clear idea of the scope of Canada’s commitment.
Paul Dewar, the party’s foreign affairs critic, questioned how Canada would be able to limit its military role in Iraq, as the federal government has said it would. Mr. Dewar and Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau visited Iraq last week with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
“I was there,” Mr. Dewar said on Sunday. “We were a kilometre away from where [Islamic State] was. It’s hard to understand, and it’s puzzling, frankly, to say we’re doing this and there won’t be combat.”
He added that he would like to see Canada focused on aid to refugees rather than becoming involved with the conflict.
The Liberals say they support a limited, non-combat advisory role for Canadian troops, but expect the government to disclose further details about the mission to a Parliamentary committee.
Mr. MacDonald reiterated on Sunday that the troops would be limited to an “advise and assist role” and would not accompany Iraqi forces on missions or tactical operations. “They are there to provide advice that will help the government of Iraq and its security forces be more effective against ISIL,” he wrote in an e-mail, referring to the Islamic State by a common acronym. “Again, they are not there in a combat capacity,” he said.
While the Canadian troops will “work closely” with their U.S. counterparts, they’ll remain under the full command of the Canadian Chief of Defence Staff, Mr. MacDonald added.