Fighter jets but no ground troops for Iraq, Harper says
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper receives a standing ovation before outlining his government's plan to participate in a military campaign against Islamic State militants, in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa October 3, 2014. Canadian fighter jets will take part in U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State militants operating in Iraq for up to six months, Harper said on Friday. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
OTTAWA — Canadian fighter pilots will head to Iraq to help destroy Islamic terrorists as part of a combat mission that only Conservative MPs seem likely to support.
MPs will vote Monday on a proposed six-month air combat mission over Iraq.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper laid out the rationale for the mission and some of its parameters Friday.
Within minutes of Harper's House of Commons speech, though, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he and his party would vote against it. Trudeau was also dismissive of the military assets the Conservatives will commit to Iraq.
"Canada can make a more helpful contribution to the international effort ... than a few aging warplanes," Trudeau said in the House of Commons. "This prime minister has not been upfront with Canadians on his plans. He is intent on taking Canada to war in Iraq."
It was the second day in a row Trudeau made light of Canada's fleet of fighter jets. On Thursday, he joked at a policy conference about what the prime minister was about to announce, saying it was "not about whipping out our CF-18s to show how big they are."
Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair was more measured and, while he did not say how New Democrats would vote Monday, he made it clear that the government has not provided details such as the cost of the mission, the terms of engagement or an exit strategy, all of which the NDP requires before it can consider supporting the mission.
"Canada should not rush into this war," Mulcair told the House of Commons.
Harper, in his speech in the House of Commons, argued that a Canadian combat mission was justified because Canada's security is threatened by the Islamic terrorists and that Canada cannot ask other nations to take up arms if Canada will not do so.
"That has never been the Canadian way, to do only the most easy and praiseworthy actions, and leave the tough things for others. If Canada wants to keep its voice in the world ... being a free-rider means you are not taken seriously," Harper said. "When our allies recognize and respond to a threat, that would also harm us, we Canadians do not stand on the sidelines. We do our part."
Canada will send six CF-18 fighter jets, two surveillance aircraft and an air-to-air refuelling jet to the Middle East for use against the Islamic State, an extremist Sunni Muslim group commonly referred to by its former acronyms ISIS and ISIL. It is trying to establish its own state in eastern Iraq and parts of Syria.
"We intend to significantly degrade the capabilities of ISIL -- specifically, its ability either to engage in military movements of scale or to operate bases in the open," Harper said.
Notably, the motion that MPs will vote on Monday specifically rules out the use of ground troops. It also sets a time limit of six months for the combat mission.
And, because the Conservatives hold a majority in the House of Commons, the motion will pass.
But Harper had wanted the support of at least one if not all opposition parties, as happened for the 2011 combat mission in Libya to help depose Moammar Gadhafi. In 2008, when Harper asked Parliament for approval to extend the combat mission in Afghanistan, the Liberals supported the Conservatives while the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP opposed.
"In a democracy, especially one approaching an election, there is rarely political upside in supporting any kind of military action, and little political risk in opposing it," Harper said Friday in the House of Commons. "Let me assure Canadians that the government is seized with the necessity of avoiding a prolonged quagmire in this part of the world."
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