Thursday, 20 July 2017 12:27

Suffer the Children of Islamic State

Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

If there is one searing image of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe it is that of the orphanages of Romania. The regime of President Nicolae Ceausescu outlawed both contraception and abortion.  As a consequence, thousands of women left babies that were either unwanted or those that they could not care for at state institutions.  These institutions were understaffed and underfunded. 

When the wall fell  (Ceausescu and his wife were executed on Christmas Day 1989) the world got a look at these orphanages and what it saw was beyond shocking.  Children were often tied to cribs, rocking back and forth in repetitive ways that spoke of a lack of human contact.  Food was insufficient and the care devoted to life’s most vulnerable was largely absent.  A global effort to help these kids ensued and while some undoubtedly ended up okay, thanks probably to the amazing resilience of the human body and mind, many did not and never recovered from their tragic start in life.

We are now faced with a similar situation in Iraq and Syria now that the parody of a state that called itself one – Islamic State – is sinking fast.  Thousands of ‘fighters’ have died at the hands of airstrikes, in battle and in the flames of suicide attacks.  Tens of thousands of civilians in cities like Mosul, taken by IS and ruled with an iron fist, have also died.  And then there are the children.

One of the most striking aspects of the social Frankenstein that was IS was their effort to create an actual self-sustaining society.Unlike other jihads (Somalia, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya…), IS went out of its way to create an image of a normal, functioning state.  Men were encouraged to leave their homes in the West and elsewhere to take up arms to ‘defend Islam’.  Women were encouraged to come and marry those men and help create future generations of IS ‘Islamic Utopia’.  Out of that arrangement came children, naturally, including young boys IS called the ‘lion cubs of the Caliphate’ (the men were the ‘lions’). 

Some of these children were urged (coerced?) to take part in truly heinous acts of violence such as executions and many more were present at public beheadings.  There was even one case of an Australian jihadi who posted a picture of his son, who appears to be between 8 - 10, holding a severed head.  Truly disturbing.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]To me all of this is a no-brainer.  These children deserve our help.[/quote]

Now that IS is all but defeated as a functioning group, what do we do with these children?  We know that war is hell in all cases and that children suffer disproportionately when exposed to death and brutality.  In some cases kids in Iraq were kidnapped by IS and either raped or forced to do terrible things. 

There is already one case of a Yazidi mom in Winnipeg who has learned that her 12-year old son is still alive: she wants him back with her.

To me all of this is a no-brainer. These children deserve our help. Professionals with seasoned experience in dealing with the trauma of war need to be found and persuaded to assist in this regard.  It won’t be easy: just as in the case of Romania, some children will be scarred for life.

We can both hate the barbarity that is IS and feel for the children that are its product. These young people are not at fault and we should do whatever we can to provide them with the best chances to achieve a normal life.  If anything positive can come out of the enormous tragedy that was Islamic State maybe this is it. 

Phil Gurski worked in the Canadian intelligence community for more than 30 years.  His latest book, The Lesser Jihads, will be published on September 15.

Published in Commentary
Sunday, 23 April 2017 16:15

We Can Choose Not to be Afraid

Commentary by Phil Gurski in Ottawa

We live in a world where fear is easy to spread.  There is no shortage of evidence that bad things happen and that there are some bad actors in a lot of places. 

The rise of the 24/7 news cycle and the ubiquity of social media have a lot to do with this. Sometimes, this fear is disproportionate to reality. The fear of violent crime is a good example: statistics in this country and others show pretty convincingly that violence of this nature is at historic lows and yet people still rank fear of violent crime high on their list of anxieties.

Terrorism fits here as well, as I have often said. 

While there is no doubt that terrorism exists and we are reminded of it daily (less so in the West and more so in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia), we still have to maintain an objective perspective.  Even if terrorism occurs more frequently today than it did, say, 40 years ago (although historical analysis might even differ on that point) it is still a rare event. 

It is impossible to claim that terrorism is more rampant than non-terrorist crime for instance (shootings, domestic violence, etc.) let alone other kinds of death (disease, car accidents, etc.).

"Manufactured" fear

Terrorism is different from other forms of violent deaths because of its inherent ability to cause fear. That is why we call it terrorism – it instills terror and fear.  That in essence is what the terrorists are trying to achieve, making us afraid of what they can do so that we will make decisions about things (foreign policy is a primary goal) under duress, decisions we would not normally make.

Some fears are natural – fear of snakes or spiders – and may go back a long way in the history of humanity. Others are manufactured. War and terrorism would fit here. If a fear is manufactured there must be a manufacturer and an audience (or recipient) of that fear.  The audience, I would argue, has a choice of whether to accept or embrace the fear. It is as simple as that. 

In other words, we play an enormous role in our own freedom from fear. We can simply choose not to be afraid.

Defeating terrorism

I am not trying to oversimplify the terrorist threat or the challenge in dealing with it.  This is indeed a hard problem that has always defied, and will most likely always defy, simple solutions. We will not 'defeat' terrorism anymore than we will 'defeat' crime in general. 

But we can 'defeat' the goal of the terrorists by refusing to be cowed by their actions and their propaganda.  We can decide not to allow them to make us afraid.

I'd like to end with a quote by the Swedish Prime Minister in the wake of this month's terrorist attack in Stockholm (an Uzbek terrorist drove a stolen beer truck into a pedestrian mall, killing four and wounding 15) as it really sends a strong message about fear: "I believe today’s [gathering] was a clear message from Stockholm and Sweden that we intend to keep our open, warm and inclusive society. That was the message. Terrorism will never defeat Sweden.”

Would that we all elected to not give in to fear and terror and tell the terrorists that they will never win.

Phil Gurski worked for more than  three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at

Published in Commentary
Tuesday, 31 January 2017 00:43

Immigration has Nothing to do with Terrorism

Commentary by Phil Gurski

IF there was any doubt about what a Donald Trump presidency means for the U.S. over the next four years, and by extension for all of us, there is little doubt now. In the first week alone, a flurry of executive orders have been signed on a whole bunch of issues that Mr. Trump promised he would act on. 

Of interest to me is, of course, the ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. The Trump administration is selling this as a national security issue – a way to keep America and Americans safe.

But is it?

On the one hand, yes.  Terrorists from those seven nations will be unable to enter the U.S. and carry out their heinous plots against innocent people.

The question, however, is: how many individuals who have carried out terrorist attacks in the U.S. after 9/11 came from those countries (or from any country for that matter) to execute their plans?  To my knowledge, the answer is precisely – zero.  Every attack has been perpetrated by either U.S. citizens or landed immigrants who radicalised almost entirely in the U.S.  Hence, a ban on citizens from the listed countries would not have stopped a single incident.

Fact is, immigration has zero relationship to terrorism, absolutely zero.

As an aside, it is of interest that several countries are not on the list – i.e. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  Given that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi, would it not have made sense to put that country on the list?

Immigration a lifeblood

Some would argue that since a few people who went on to commit terrorism in the U.S. were born elsewhere, a ban on Muslim immigration (Mr. Trump’s denials notwithstanding, his act is exactly that) is justified.  Perhaps, but immigration is a risk at the best of times. 

How do we ensure that an immigrant does not become a murderer?  A rapist?  An embezzler?  A wife abuser?  A tax cheat?  As there are no guarantees, maybe we should have no immigration at all. 

I am kidding – immigration is the lifeblood of a society and the few negatives do not measure up to the many positives.

It is highly unlikely that this move by the new U.S. government will have any real effect on terrorism.  Attacks will still be planned by those living in the U.S.  A small number of Muslims will continue to be radicalised to violence in the U.S.  Terrorism will remain a very rare tragedy.

Propaganda bonus

We must also not discount the propaganda bonus this gives actual terrorist groups like Islamic State.  IS has long said that the West hates Islam and that Western governments do not want Muslims to live in their countries.  As a result, Muslims must perform hijra (migrate) to a Muslim land.  The Trump move underscores and supports what the terrorists are saying.

I am happy that Canada’s Trudeau government is not going down that path.  Canada is proudly a nation of immigrants, including Muslim ones, and will remain so, I hope.

Terrorism is real and requires real solutions.  The Trump administration immigration ban is not one of them.

Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 27 October 2016 20:11

Do Returning IS fighters Deserve an Amnesty?

Commentary by Phil Gurski in Ottawa

Historically, amnesties have been offered to former combatants in an attempt to stop the violence and allow a country the chance to rebuild itself. 

A really good example where an amnesty seemed to work would be in South Africa where it was part of that nation's Truth and Reconciliation Commission post-Apartheid.  On the other hand, amnesty for fighters was rejected in the recent Colombian referendum on ending the half century war with the FARC.

Amnesties can be hard to sell.  Conflicts where hundreds or thousands of people have been killed by insurgencies or guerrilla movements or terrorists can result in acrimony and long memories where populations are unwilling to let those responsible for the violence get off lightly.  This is what appears to have happened in the narrow defeat of the Colombian referendum.

A question that is being asked by some is whether we should consider offering an amnesty to returning foreign fighters with Islamic State.  One such proposal was published recently by David Wells (full disclosure: Wells is an acquaintance and, like me, a former intelligence analyst).  He wrote that by offering a "plea bargain" to those who are coming home disillusioned, security intelligence and law enforcement agencies could focus their limited resources on those who pose a real threat to their homelands upon return.

Brutality and inhumanity

Wells does offer a few cautionary statements about the difficulties of carrying out such an amnesty and I want to build on those (NB: more in my forthcoming book Western Foreign Fighters: the threat to homeland and international security).

To my mind, the single greatest obstacle to social acceptance of any form of amnesty for those who joined IS is the sheer brutality and inhumanity of the group's actions.  Whether we are talking about beheadings, immolations, throwing people off roofs, raping girls or selling women into slavery, the depravity so rampant among IS members puts them in a special level of hell. 

No one will want to see these animals get any break on the punishment they so richly deserve.

Compounding this problem is determining who did what in theatre. Aside from the really stupid ones who posted videos online boasting of their lust for violence and those even more stupid to return home – assuming they have not been Hellfired into oblivion (the best case scenario really) – we will probably not be able to determine who the worst actors are.

Gathering evidence

States will want to prosecute those guilty of war crimes, but unless we have posted videos as evidence, this will be very difficult.  Gathering such evidence in a conflict zone like Syria is unquestionably a challenge and it is not as if we can rely on Syrian authorities for help (besides, given recent cases of Syrian-Canadian "collaboration" in several alleged torture incidents, Syrian assistance would be politically impossible even if it were offered).

Furthermore, what do we do with the confessions/denials of some returnees? While it is probable that there are legitimate instances of those who are disgusted with what they saw and may not have actually contributed to the horror, how do we make that determination?  Whom do we believe?

In the end, the fact that these individuals have left Canada (or many other countries) to join IS (or other groups) is a criminal offence and it is in the interest of the state to pursue legal action where the evidence is available.  Each case will have to be judged on its merits and there may be ones where an amnesty – or the decision not to take to trial – can be considered.

"Forgiving" populations

We do have one instance of this already in Canada when the Crown chose not to charge three young women from the Toronto area after they unsuccessfully tried to travel to Syria to join IS (they were interdicted in Egypt thanks to excellent police work on this end).

We also have to bear in mind that some of these ex-combatants will still pose a threat to our societies. We have already seen attacks carried out by returnees and we will see more.  It is not unreasonable to predict that over the next five years or so our security intelligence and law enforcement agencies will be very busy trying to stop future attacks by returning terrorists.

I suppose that amnesties are feasible where there are at least some people on both sides of the conflict who can see the perspective and justification of violence from the other's point of view.  And, yet, it is impossible to imagine a scenario where anyone views the actions of IS this way. 

There are also significant differences in the nature of conflict where amnesties appear to have had a positive effect – say South Africa – versus ones where the "forgiving" population has not been beset by direct warfare in their own backyards.  If you are not from Syria or Iraq, you have not witnessed the daily carnage caused by IS and are thus less willing to take a chance to end it by offering amnesty.

I fear that anyone who proposes forgiving returning terrorists will have a very tough job ahead of them.  And, I am not sure that this is a good idea in the first place.

Phil Gurski worked for more than  three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and the forthcoming Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at

Published in Commentary

by Shenaz Kermalli in Toronto 

Hossein is a 10-year-old Iraqi orphan with long hair, big olive-coloured eyes and a shy smile. He loves going to school and playing soccer. He also loves visiting his Canadian dentist for annual check-ups. 

Hossein’s dentist is one of 51 volunteers who fly into Iraq every spring to provide free dental care. 

Armed with colouring books, games and iPads – to entertain the children while they wait for their turn – the dentists come fully equipped to carry out everything from oral health instruction to preventative care, including fissure sealants, extractions and stainless steel crowns. 

Toronto dentist Jaffer Kermalli* has been treating Hossein for several years. “His long hair hides scars from a bomb blast he was in,” Kermalli shares. “He came back to us [this year] and specifically wanted us to fix a broken front tooth and take away the pain from another tooth in his mouth.”

Kermalli recently went on his fifth trip to Iraq with Global Kindness Foundation (GKF), a Vancouver-based charitable organization that takes two trips every year to provide medical, dental and optical services to countries in need due to war and poverty. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“To see the state of these children and how much they struggle; it puts all my first-world problems into perspective.”[/quote]

A passion project 

In 2015, GKF took its dental mission to Iraq and Kenya. In the past, the organization (members pictured) also travelled to Peru, India and Tanzania. 

The 33-year-old dentist calls it his “passion project.” 

“I plan my year around the GKF trips, and over the years have become more active in helping organize supplies and train volunteers. It gives me focus throughout the year, and is my ‘reset,’” he says. “To see the state of these children and how much they struggle; it puts all my first-world problems into perspective.” 

The children they treat are generally thrilled to see them – notwithstanding the usual anxiety that comes with dental visits. 

For many, it means the first time ever sitting in a dentist’s chair, or holding a toothbrush. The lack of basic awareness is a direct outcome of living in both a war-torn country and refugee camps, where dental care is scarce or not available at all. 

Many non-dental volunteers have also joined the group, along with several opticians and physicians. The non-medical volunteers are assigned roles like screening the children in the waiting areas, occupying the children while they wait for their appointment and assisting the dentists. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For many, it means the first time ever sitting in a dentist’s chair, or holding a toothbrush.[/quote]

Shahina Rahim, an IT executive at the Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto, joined GKF for a second time this year. 

“I wanted to make a small difference to the lives of the children,” she says. “I couldn’t stop thinking about them and wanted to come back and help.” 

This time, though, she took a few Arabic classes in Toronto before leaving in order to help overcome the language barrier. 

Meeting many needs 

Additional medical and optical camps were also set up, seeing more than 1,000 children over two weeks. Many were referred to specialists. 

“One child had a case of congenital heart defect which had gone untreated and required surgery,” recalls Vancouver dentist and GKF founder, Dr. Hasnain Dewji (pictured).  

“There were also some cases of severe psychiatric conditions, so a referral to a local psychiatrist was arranged. Two other boys needed growth-hormone therapy. We are trying to determine the cost of therapy and see if we can raise the funds needed.” 

The two opticians in the group also flew in from Vancouver, and determined that at least 60 of the children they saw required corrective lenses. The charity arranged for the eyeglasses to be made in Tanzania and delivered for free to Iraq. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[The kids] have aspirations, optimism and hopes and dreams like all of us.”[/quote]

Kids are kids 

The dental mission to Iraq started on March 19 and ended April 1. GKF is already recruiting its next set of volunteers to travel to Bhavnagar, India, in December. 

For Rahim, the hardest part of her trip to Iraq was witnessing the social remnants of war – the beggars, the children in wheelchairs and the sheer poverty. 

“For many of the kids, you can see the poverty through hygiene, dirty or worn clothes, and shoes or sandals that don't fit them.”  

But none of that seemed to stop them from smiling, laughing and dreaming, she adds. 

“My encounter with the kids has been a wonderful one. They have aspirations, optimism and hopes and dreams like all of us,” she says. 

“Kids are kids after all, no matter what part of the world they live in.” 

*Source is not related to the author.

{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Health

by Samaah Jaffer in Vancouver 

Near the old Jewish quarter of Baghdad, at Al Rasheed Street, there is a meandering alley named after the Iraqi poet Al Mutanabbi,” read Shawk Alani, the organizer of the ninth Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” reading in Vancouver. 

The reading, quoting Phillip Robertson’s 2005 report, “The death of Al Mutanabbi Street,” was the first of many during an evening in commemoration of Iraqi literature. 

On Mar. 5, 2007, a car bomb devastated the famous bookselling street. Since 2007, writers, activists and artists have marked the anniversary of the attack with literary readings as part of a project called “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here.” Spearheaded locally by the Pandora’s Collective at the invitation of founder Beau Beausoleil,  the annual event has  included readings from Vancouver writers like Bonnie Nish and Hadani Ditmars.

This year, readings were held in over 20 cities across North America, Europe and the Middle East. 

“I think the idea of Al-Mutanabbi Street ‘starting here,’ is to put context to history, and to say that these issues are not just issues that are local,” said Shawk, who prefers to be referred to using her first name. “These politics cross borders, there is relationships between what happens here and what happens in Iraq.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]During Saddam Hussein’s reign, writers and intellectuals were servants of the state who produced literature praising the regime, for which they were rewarded.[/quote]

Recreating Al-Mutanabbi 

The evening at Simon Fraser University’s Vancouver campus was an immersive experience, where guests were greeted with a classical Iraqi playlist as they entered and offered cardamom tea. 

Alani introduced the historical and political significance of the event, reminding the crowd of the pitfalls of the literary culture that was being celebrated. During Saddam Hussein’s reign, writers and intellectuals were servants of the state who produced literature praising the regime, for which they were rewarded. 

The readings included the original and translated works of the 10th century poet, Al-Mutanabbi, read by Wadood Hamad, adjunct professor in chemistry at the University of British Columbia. 

Hamad also read the poetry of one of Iraq’s most famous and influential poets of the 20th century, Muzaffar Al-Nawab, who wrote on the themes of love, politics, philosophy and existentialism. 

Iraqi writer Dima Yassine and Palestinian filmmaker and songwriter Sobhi Al-Zobaidi performed original works that reflected on their lived experiences and memories of their homes. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Art is an outlet; it is a place where we put our pain."[/quote]

Sara McIntyre read an excerpt from Inaam Kachachi’s American Granddaughter, a novel about a young Iraqi-American who serves as a translator during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In the passage, the protagonist must stage a raid of her own grandmother’s house, as it’s the only way she is allowed to see her. 

Alani issued a trigger warning prior to reading from journalist Anthony Shadid’s book Night Draws Near. 

The excerpt, titled “A boy who was ‘like a flower’” dealt with the funeral of two teenaged boys who were victims of an unattributed attack. The scene addressed a raw, intimate moment of sorrow, anger and frustration that was all too common during the Iraq War.           

In addition to the readings, Shawk showcased a short film by Iraqi creative director Mustafa Al-Sumaidaie, featuring the rebuilt Al-Mutanabbi street today, and played Walid Gholmieh’s Symphony No.2, “Al-Mutanabbi” B. Flat Major. 

Shawk’s grandfather collaborated with the Lebanese composer to produce the piece, which was meant to provide listeners with an auditory experience similar to that of reading Al-Mutanabbi’s poetry. 

Readings provide healing 

“I think it’s important to make spaces that are critical, events that are a bit more involved, bringing more critical thought into people’s consciousness,” said Shawk of her involvement in the initiative. 

She said that bringing the story of Al-Mutanabbi Street into consciousness and awareness was the first step, but she also felt the need to give people an opportunity to act upon this knowledge. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Doing readings by other people is kind of like sharing that thing that has been externalized, and realizing that actually there are so many ways in which we have the same experiences.”[/quote]

To inspire action, Shawk screened a video clip featuring Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal: 168:01, an art installation in Windsor, Ont. that includes a 12-metre bookcase filled with 20,000 blank books. Bilal hopes to swap each of the blank books for a real book that will be donated to the University of Baghdad’s College of Fine Arts. 

Shawk said the significance of hosting this reading is about saying, “I’m here, I’m a part of this city now, and I want to bring to people’s awareness things that are happening in the other place where I also belong.” 

She indicated that for members of the Iraqi and Arab diaspora, the event also represented an opportunity for “dealing with the emotions, the crisis, the trauma, all in a way that’s productive.” 

Shawk noted that the Iraqi diaspora is quite diverse and unique in that there have been multiple conflicts over the past 50 years during which large populations emigrated, either as refugees or by choice. 

“Art is an outlet; it is a place where we put our pain. You take the pain, you externalize it in a piece of art, and then you can step back and look at it and deal with it in a different way, and you can share it with other people,” said Shawk. 

“Doing readings by other people is kind of like sharing that thing that has been externalized, and realizing that actually there are so many ways in which we have the same experiences.” 

Shawk added that “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here,” enables Iraqis — a group that has been historically victimized and portrayed as weak, unhappy and constantly being killed — to partake in creating an alternate history for themselves. 

Reflecting on her own birth in Baghdad in the wake of the first Gulf War, Shawk explained, “You can create a space in literature where you can celebrate life, resistance, and existence.”

Publisher's Note: This report has been updated to correct the history of this initiative: this was the ninth – not the first – edition of the reading. We regret the error. 

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Books
Saturday, 20 February 2016 21:31

Iraq is a Quagmire and Trudeau Knows It

Commentary by Firas Al-Atraqchi in Cairo, Egypt

Despite the partisan brouhaha and accusations of weakness and betrayal directed at the Liberal government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision last week to withdraw jet fighters from the international anti-ISIS coalition was the correct one. 

True, the Liberals may not have been particularly bright or assertive in how they sold the idea of the CF-18 pullout, but the facts on the ground support Trudeau. 

In fact, his decision was the sanest yet in a conflict that no longer makes sense. 

The coalition’s campaign of bombing ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria has produced little. It has failed to significantly cripple ISIS’s military capacity or its ambitious recruitment drive. 

The extremist group not only still controls Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, and much of the north and centre, but it has expanded into Libya and Afghanistan. 

Coalition airstrikes had even failed to fully dislodge ISIS fighters from all of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, until earlier this week. 

Then there’s the collateral damage. 

Coalition air raids have, as claimed by many Iraqi and Syrian civilians in the past 18 months, led to a number of civilian casualties 

That’s not exactly protecting civilians from ISIS, is it? 

Canada does not need to have blood on its hands, whether directly or by association. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Canada does not need to have blood on its hands, whether directly or by association.[/quote]

Other types of war brewing 

While the war for hearts and minds has not been particularly successful, there’s also the war of perceptions which rages in the Middle East and on social media. 

And the U.S.-led coalition appears to be losing that one, too. 

For more than a year, various Middle Eastern voices have accused the U.S.-led coalition of actually aiding ISIS 

On social media, various videos purport to show airdropped U.S.-made supplies falling into the hands of ISIS fighters. Whether these were seized from the Iraqi army or not is largely a moot point. 

Canada does not need the negative publicity that accompanies accusations of aiding ISIS. 

It’s also rather confusing. The U.S.-led coalition is comprised of predominantly Sunni states who are opposed to the Alawite (Shia) rule of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. 

Assad is supported by Iran. 

Iran is in a proxy war with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Yemen. 

Elements within these Sunni states are accused of supplying the Islamist rebels, including Al-Qaeda and ISIS, with weapons and funds – whether directly or not. 

And it could get messier. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]And it could get messier.[/quote]

Saudi Arabia and the UAE pledged to send up to 100,000 troops to remove Assad’s government. 

They already moved their air force assets to Incirlik air base in Turkey. 

Why does Canada want to get caught in the middle of a proxy sectarian war 

It doesn’t, but Canada cannot stand on the sidelines. 

A country with a tradition of humanitarian global assistance, Canada will up its efforts to host refugees and assist others left in the Middle East. 

In the meantime, it is boosting its military advisory role in Iraq, increasing the number of trainers and experts who will help the Iraqi army enhance its capabilities and reach from 69 to 207. 

Strengthening Iraq’s core 

By stating that airstrikes alone do not produce long-term stability, Trudeau is not only drawing on lessons from Canada’s moral experience in Afghanistan, but also correctly reading the situation on the ground. 

Iraq has been bombed, re-bombed and over-bombed more than any other country since World War II. 

The country has gone from bad to worse, sinking into a medieval state of disrepair. Despite shock and awe and tens of thousands of sorties – using the most advanced smart and dumb technology of warfare – the country has failed to stabilize. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Iraq] has gone from bad to worse, sinking into a medieval state of disrepair.[/quote]

There are more than 60 organized, battle-hardened and fully-equipped militias operating beyond the scope of the government in Iraq.  

They have wreaked havoc throughout the country, adding to the sectarian tensions already about to burst. 

During the effort to liberate Anbar capital, Ramadi, three months ago, the Iraqi government – at least on the surface – appeared to acquiesce to Western pressures not to use these militias in the campaign. 

That these militias were heavily used 10 months earlier to liberate predominantly Sunni Tikrit is a testament to the weakening of the country’s centre; Baghdad has had a token fledgling national army since the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi military in 2003. 

Many see this as having been a mistake with deadly consequences, which ultimately led to the rise of sectarian militias that now dominate the landscape. 

By training Iraqi national forces, Canada will be strengthening the country’s core and signalling that the international community backs a united country led by the government in Baghdad.

Firas Al-Atraqchi is a Canadian journalist of Arab descent who has covered the Middle East since 1992. A former senior editor with Al Jazeera's English-language website, he currently teaches journalism at the American University of Cairo as an associate professor. He is a member of New Canadian Media's editorial advisory board. 

{module NCM Blurb}


Published in Commentary

by Jeff Sallot in Ottawa

Tactics win skirmishes. Strategy wins wars.

Tactically, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is at a disadvantage in the current political battle over whether he’s flip-flopping on the efficacy of bombing Islamic State strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

Of course he’s flip-flopping. He’s done the strategizing, however, and has decided to hunker down and endure the sniper fire from New Democrats on his left flank and Conservatives on the right when the House resumes sitting next week.

What else could he do? Trudeau cannot logically explain away the fact that RCAF warplanes will continue bombing for at least another two weeks. We all know he promised something else during the election campaign three months ago. He promised to halt the bombing mission — and we expected that to happen well before now.

Nor is there an easy way to square those campaign promises with Trudeau’s new pledge Monday to provide midair refuelling service for the warplanes of other countries that continue dropping bombs.

Trudeau's broader strategy

So Trudeau will take the political hits, figuring that he’s got the broader strategy nailed. And this strategy, he hopes, will win the hearts and minds of Canadian voters by the time the next election rolls around.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]This is a fairly easy package for the Liberals to sell to Canadians.[/quote]

Ottawa will spend $840 million over three years to provide food, medicine and other humanitarian assistance to refugees running for their lives in Syria and Iraq. Canada will provide an additional $270 million over three years to help Jordan and other frontline states build the infrastructure they’ll need to deal with a continuing flood of refugees.

The Canadian Armed Forces will substantially increase training programs for Iraqi soldiers to fight ISIS on the ground. Training programs will continue for another two years at least.

This is a fairly easy package for the Liberals to sell to Canadians. We all want to help refugees. And most of us think the Iraqis will have to win back their own territory with their own soldiers.

Trudeau’s strategy also runs a big risk. Canadians will be training ethnic Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq who have a political agenda all their own. Yes, they want to rub out ISIS — but they also want to establish an independent Kurdish state. The Iraqi government in Baghdad — a government that Ottawa says it supports — doesn’t like the idea of partitioning its territory.

NATO allies stick together

Our NATO allies in Turkey also have concerns about the Kurds. Turkey has a substantial Kurdish population of its own along the border with Iraq. A Kurdish separatist revolt against Baghdad in Iraq could quickly explode into a Kurdish rebellion against Ankara.

There would be hell to pay within NATO if Kurdish troops, trained and armed by Canada, started attacking the Turkish army. Trudeau didn’t address this question in his announcement Monday.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]NATO countries don’t criticize each other in public very often. They quietly clench their teeth when there’s disagreement.[/quote]

The prime minister was much happier to tell everyone about the thumbs-up he says other NATO allies are giving Canada’s new anti-ISIS program. He said he has been working the phones with Barack Obama in Washington, Angela Merkel in Berlin, David Cameron in London and François Hollande in Paris, and they’re all okay with his plan.

But you didn’t have to take Trudeau’s word for it. On cue, spokesmen at the White House and the Pentagon piped up and said they think Canada’s new contribution is just swell. (It’s not just the leaders who consult among themselves. So do their spin doctors.)

But honestly — what else would would the allies say? NATO countries don’t criticize each other in public very often. They quietly clench their teeth when there’s disagreement. Which is why Jean Chrétien took very little flak from the George W. Bush administration when he politely declined to sign on with the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

And Brian Mulroney stayed best buddies with Ronald Reagan when his Tory government said ‘no thanks’ to Canadian participation in the Pentagon’s hare-brained Star Wars program.

But here’s the other part of the deal: Canadian leaders pull their punches, too. They didn’t tell the allies the Iraq invasion would become a disaster, or that Star Wars is just a Hollywood sci-fi fairy tale.

So Trudeau will bite his tongue and utter not a word the next time a U.S. bomb goes astray and kills a bunch of innocent civilians in Syria or Iraq. And Trudeau has no intention of badmouthing Washington over the fact the Americans simply aren’t doing their share to resettle refugees in the United States.

Between allies, mum’s the word — always.

Jeff Sallot is worked for The Globe and Mail for more than three decades, much of the time as a political journalist based in Ottawa. He started his career in political journalism at The Toronto Star when Pierre Trudeau was prime minister. He taught journalism at Carleton University for seven years until he retired in 2014.

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by Alexander Tesar

For more than a year, Canadian CF-18s have been striking ISIS targets with laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles.

Airstrikes began in Iraq in November 2014, but the Conservatives voted to expand the fight into Syria last March. In total, Operation Impact has conducted 1,750 sorties so far. The Liberals made an election promise to end Canada’s bombing campaign early, arguing that we should send personnel to train local troops instead.

But then terrorists attacked Paris last month, killing 132 people and injuring hundreds more. There has since been discussion in Europe and the U.S. about invoking Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty — the article that enshrines “collective defense,” where an attack against one ally is considered an attack on them all.

But does a terrorist incident qualify as an “attack,” and could Canada be forced into escalating a war against its will?

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][C]ould Canada be forced into escalating a war against its will?[/quote]

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was founded on April 4, 1949 to combat the expanding Soviet Union.

At the time, countries throughout Europe saw the Soviet Union as a threat to their sovereignty — the previous year had seen a coup in Czechoslovakia, civil war in Greece, and an attempt to starve West Berlin into submission.

Article 5 was meant to give the agreement teeth. Especially for smaller, weaker countries, a military alliance with the United States promised protection from marauding communists within and without.

But the Cold War eventually thawed out. The first and only country to ever invoke Article 5 is none other than the United States, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In response, NATO scrambled the jets and began Operation Eagle Assist. Crew from 13 countries flew 360 surveillance missions over U.S. airspace, patrolling the skies for eight months. Some of NATO’s naval forces were also sent to the Mediterranean to fight terrorism — an operation that has lasted almost 15 years and is still going on to this day.

Article 5 deliberately vague 

Canada sent soldiers to Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, but Article 5 did not compel them to do so.

That’s because Article 5, despite its impressive rhetoric, can’t really compel anyone to do anything. The wording is deliberately vague. Though many today associate the U.S. with bloated battles in exotic locales, it once shunned all conflicts beyond its borders; the stars and stripes arrived late to both the First and Second World Wars.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Article 5, despite its impressive rhetoric, can’t really compel anyone to do anything.[/quote] 

According to their constitution, only Congress can actually declare war, and politicians in 1949 were justifiably concerned that a mutual-defence treaty could draw them into a fight they didn’t pick — over the previous 50 years, Europe had developed a habit of spontaneously exploding into armed conflict.

So when it came time to negotiate, the U.S. insisted that collective defence did not mean an automatic declaration of war. Instead, each country would assist with “such action as it deem[ed] necessary, including the use of armed force.” The countries that needed the most protection were not in a position to dictate terms, and the terms have not changed since then.

So, what will Canada do if France or another NATO country invokes Article 5? Basically, whatever it wants.

Although France is well within its rights to invoke the article — the only precedent for using it is, after all, a terrorist attack — it does not specify any action that must be taken beyond aiding the country in question.

Trudeau’s commitment to train local forces, while probably less effective than airstrikes, fulfills Canada’s treaty obligations. Whether it fulfills public opinion remains to be seen.

Alexander Tesar is a Krembil Fellow at The Walrus.

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by iPolitics editorial staff in Ottawa

Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo were both victims of radicalized Canadian citizens bent on killing a soldier.

So why, in the year since the attacks in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu and Parliament Hill, has Ottawa ignored counter-radicalization programs?

The federal response has focused on hard security. The Harper government increased intelligence and enforcement powers through legislation. It also never wasted a chance to boast about its modest role in the U.S.-led military effort against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

As Remembrance Day is an appropriate time to think about whether our support for veterans matches our willingness to empathize with their sacrifices, so should [Oct. 22’s] memorial event be an opportunity to ask ourselves whether Canada has responded to the threat of homegrown terrorism in the right way.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Oct. 22’s] memorial event be an opportunity to ask ourselves whether Canada has responded to the threat of homegrown terrorism in the right way.[/quote]

The answer, after 12 short months, is no — we haven’t.

Slow in response

Even before Martin Couture-Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau became violent, Canada was slow compared to other developed nations in responding to the radicalization of its own citizens, say experts.

After the Syrian civil war gave roots to the social media-savvy Islamic State, things didn’t get much better. Programs aimed at helping communities identify and help youth at risk of falling into radicalization – or deal with them once they had begun to indulge in radical views – were lacking.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]After last fall’s attacks, the federal government promised a counter-radicalization strategy. It never happened.[/quote]

After last fall’s attacks, the federal government promised a counter-radicalization strategy. It never happened. Instead, Canadians got the Anti-terrorism Act (C-51), with its increase in surveillance powers.

Experts who testified during committee hearings on the bill protested that counter-radicalization – the work of preventing terrorism rather than just responding to it – wasn’t receiving a mention. Again, they were told to wait.

The Conservatives were booted from power before a strategy could be released. The Liberal party, which won a majority government in Monday’s general election, promised to appoint a national counter-radicalization coordinator to work with religious communities and make sure on-the-ground initiatives are getting the support they need.

Hopefully, the new government will fulfill this promise and use it as a springboard to renew counter-radicalization programs. It would be a fitting tribute to Vincent and Cirillo.

A noxious atmosphere for Muslim Canadians

There is another measure the new government should take today — related to the debate over security, but distinct from it.

Intentionally or not, the militarized climate of the past year took shape while the Conservatives pursued another agenda. From unnecessary legislation aimed at curbing ‘barbaric cultural practices’ to the vilification of the niqab, the Conservatives tried to dictate the social and cultural mores of Canadians in the name of values and the rule of law.

A Senate Committee on National Security and Defence report, chaired by a Conservative, even recommended the government get into the business of licensing imams.

The security effort and the culture war combined to create a noxious atmosphere for Muslim Canadians.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Are we made less safe when we engage in this alienation narrative? Absolutely.”[/quote]

“Are we made less safe when we engage in this alienation narrative? Absolutely,” said Mubin Shaikh, the former CSIS informant who helped stop the Toronto 18 terrorist plot, in an interview with The Tyee in March.

“I was the agent on the Toronto 18, and the Via Rail plot information was given by a Canadian imam,” he said. “So why do they leave that part out? Then Muslims are made to feel like we gave the information that leads to the arrests, but it’s still our fault? What message is that sending?”

The federal terrorism response has focused too much on a single group — Muslims — instead of on the complex motivations behind homegrown terrorists like Couture-Rouleau and Zehaf-Bibeau.

Incidentally, understanding individual actors is the key to counter-radicalization since their motivations are poorly understood

Experts say there is no overarching theory that explains why some people commit acts of terrible violence in the name of an idea. But they do say a good counter-radicalization effort has to focus on responding to individuals. The best way to get ahead in that regard is to do a better job of enlisting communities in the effort.

Today, whether in words or actions, the incoming Liberal government should try to signal that Muslim communities in Canada must be an important part of stopping attacks like the one that happened in Ottawa one year ago.

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