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Harper's war in Iraq is a doomed tragedy of terrors

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Photo: DFATD | MAECD/flickr

This week, the Harper government announced plans to extend and expand our supposedly no-boots-on-the-ground, six-month military mission in Iraq.

The purpose, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson, is to "degrade and destabilize this gang of thugs [Islamic State], and in doing so, strip [it] of its power to threaten the security of the region, or to launch terrorist operations in Canada."

The reality is this soon-to-be-open-ended, bottomless money pit of a misguided mission will achieve none of Nicholson's objectives, and may actually make us more vulnerable to terrorist attack in the future.

Islamic State is the logical result of cascading, colliding, ill-advised and illogical western military misadventures in a volatile region full of deep-seated historic, religious, ideological, sectarian conflicts we can barely identify let alone wrap our minds around.

This latest mess-of-our-own-making began with George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Canada wisely dodged that bullet.

As Opposition leader then, Stephen Harper had argued for putting our troops in Iraq's harm's way. As prime minister, he volunteered us last fall for Iraq II. And now he's keen for us to push into the front lines of those chasing the Islamic State from Iraq into Syria.

Syria? Wait a minute. Isn't Syria in the midst of a civil war? Isn't Syrian president Bashar al-Asaad also fighting the Islamic State? If we take on Islamic State in Syria, are we propping up a reprehensible regime responsible for the deaths of at least 60,000 civilians in the last three years?

We claim we need to fight Islamic State in Syria because the U.S.-led coalition has been so successful in driving them out of Iraq.

How's that working out?

Well, let's see. Iran, another non-ally (see nuclear threat) that supports al-Asaad, is also fighting Islamic State in Iraq … when it isn't fomenting sectarian violence between Iraqi-backed Shia and Islamic-State-encouraged Sunni militias. Not that either side requires encouragement. They've been warring since 632 over who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad.


So is Rob Nicholson, whose dismissal of the Islamic State as simply "a gang of thugs" betrays his ignorance of its complex historical, religious and ideological roots.

Instead of adding our inevitably inconsequential military might to an unwinnable conflict, Canada could make a real contribution by focusing instead on helping these wars' refugees, and understanding why so many young western-raised Muslims, including Canadians, offer themselves as drone fodder for Islamic State. And finding constructive ways to discourage them.

Unfortunately, those aren't "warrior" enough for the Harper government.

So we are doomed to continue this tragedy of terrors.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: DFATD | MAECD/flickr

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