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Trudeau continues Canada's war in Iraq with little critical media coverage

Photo by Department of National Defence.

There has been little mainstream media attention -- or context -- given to the Trudeau government's announcement earlier this week that it would extend the deployment of Canadian troops in Iraq until March 2021.

A quick historical recap.

On February 15-16, 2003, an estimated six to 11 million people in 60 countries marched against the imminent invasion of Iraq. That invasion began 16 years ago this week on the evening of March 19, 2003 (at 5:34 a.m. Baghdad time on March 20).

By September 2004, then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan stated that the invasion was not sanctioned by the UN Security Council and that the war was illegal.

A study released in October 2013 found that at least 405,000 people died between 2003 and 2011 due to the war and occupation of Iraq.

Those casualties have continued to mount.

Furthermore, the United Nations reported in January 2016 that "3.2 million people have been internally displaced since January 2014, including more than a million children of school age."

As of January 10, 2016, the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Australia and several other countries had carried out 6,341 airstrikes in Iraq.

By July 2016, a British inquiry led by Sir John Chilcot found that the legal basis for the war was "far from satisfactory," peaceful alternatives to the war had not been exhausted, and that the lack of post-war planning significantly contributed to the emergence of ISIS.

In other words, this was arguably an avoidable war that spawned increased violence.

That's critical context missing from the Government of Canada media release this week highlighting that Canada has spent more than $2.1 billion since 2016 on "security, stabilization and humanitarian and development assistance needs in response to the crises in Iraq and Syria and their impacts on Jordan and Lebanon."

The Trudeau government has reshaped Canada's military engagement in Iraq several times since it won the October 2015 federal election.

In February 2016, Trudeau announced that six CF-18s would be withdrawn from bombing missions in Iraq and Syria, but among other actions, tripled the number of special forces troops in Iraq, maintained two surveillance aircraft there that helped identify targets to bomb, and provided a refuelling plane for continued allied bombing missions.

By June 2017, the Trudeau government announced that Canadian troops would stay in Iraq for another two years.

At that time, Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom wrote, "Ottawa's hope is that if Trump thinks Canada is pulling its weight militarily, he will order his negotiators to go easy on this country during the upcoming North American Free Trade Agreement talks."

By January 2019 the Trudeau government withdrew the CC-150 Polaris refuelling aircraft but only after, as reported by iPolitics, it had "delivered more than 65 million pounds of fuel to coalition aircraft during its deployment."

In terms of the present deployment, Global News reports that "Canada has about 500 military members in Iraq, including 200 who are part of a NATO training mission and 120 special forces who have been helping Iraqi forces root out Islamic State insurgents around the northern city of Mosul."

It's only in the closing paragraphs of a Canadian Press article that we see the point that "Questions and concerns have been raised in the past about the conduct of some Iraqi security forces, which includes allegations of torture, kidnappings and extrajudicial killings…"

Even there though, that sentence ends with, "…but [Maj.-Gen. Peter] Dawe said the units that his troops are partnered with have been carefully screened."

In February 2016, the Trudeau government announced it would be spending $1.6 billion in Iraq over the following three years. It now boasts in a media release that it has spent "more than $2.1 billion" in the region.

Where's the critical and contextual media coverage that says many continue to suffer and that billions of dollars continue to be spent in the aftermath of an illegal and avoidable war that killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more?

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

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