Feds face calls for inquiry into military’s handling of Iraq war crime reports

The federal Liberal government is facing calls for an independent investigation after allegations the military failed to respond to a complaint three years ago that Iraqi forces trained by Canadian soldiers had committed a war crime.

Randall Garrison, a defense critic of the NDP, suggests that complaints and concerns about investigations into other Iraqi forces working with Canada are part of a disturbing pattern from at least a decade ago, which is why he believes that an independent investigation is required.

“What I have observed over time is that the lower levels of the rank and file Canadian Soldiers and Officer Corps have brought these issues to the attention of senior leaders, and senior leaders have had a way of telling people not to pay attention. pattern,” he said.

“Why is this happening? I think an independent investigation is needed. Is it the fault of some senior leaders? Or is there something systematic here that has led us to international (law) and even our own national Don’t follow the law?

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Military police are currently investigating their handling of an incident in September 2018, where Canadian soldiers were helping enroll 270 Iraqi soldiers for a US-led training mission near the northern city of Mosul.

An internal report obtained by The Canadian Press and first reported by Postmedia showed Canadians being shown videos of war crimes and human rights violations being committed by Iraqi soldiers they were there to train.

Yet when the Canadians raised the issue with their commanders, according to the report, they were told that the matter would be dealt with and that they would have to ignore the video and “continue.”

One of the soldiers involved said he tried to raise the issue with his commanders on three separate occasions, but he and other members of his unit “are unsure whether the appropriate action was effectively taken.”

A separate, secret memo obtained by The Canadian Press shows that then-Defense Chief General Jonathan Vance was warned in January 2020 that the investigation into Iraqi security forces with whom Canadian troops may have negotiated would be of “substantial depth”. There was a shortage.

Garrison says the recent concerns are a continuation of issues first raised in Afghanistan more than a decade ago, when the military was accused of transferring detainees to local authorities despite knowing they could be tortured was.

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So he believes that the investigation should take a fresh look at what happened at that time. Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, who had previously served in Afghanistan, in 2016 turned down the NDP call for such an investigation into the Afghan captive case.

“Things that were war crimes came to the attention of Canadians, referred to as chains of command, and nothing happened,” Garrison told The Canadian Press.

Conservative defense critic James Bejan in the House of Commons on Thursday questioned the government’s decision to expand Canada’s mission in Iraq, raising concerns about Iraqi forces working alongside Iraqi troops.

“Canada is contributing to greater peace and security in the world and remains a strong participant in the fight against (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant),” Sajjan’s parliamentary secretary, Anita Vandenbeld, told Bejan.

“We are committed to fulfilling our obligations under international and domestic law. The Canadian Armed Forces is no longer dealing with Iraqi security forces related to these allegations.”

Experts say it should come as no surprise that Canadian soldiers find themselves interacting with Iraqi soldiers who may have committed atrocities, given the country’s recent history, and that part of their mission may be facing such incidents in the future. to stop the behavior.

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“It might seem kind of counterintuitive, but it just reinforces how much we need to be out there,” said Besma Momani, an expert in Middle Eastern politics at the University of Waterloo.

Yet both Momani and fellow Middle East expert Thomas Juno of the University of Ottawa said the report underscores the need for better transparency and accountability when operating in such environments – and with such partners.

“The government needs to be more transparent with the Canadian people about the challenges involved in the mission in Iraq and what we are trying to achieve,” Juno said in an email.

“The government in particular should be more transparent about what it is doing to ensure that Canadian troops stationed in Iraq or in other comparable missions comply with international law on these matters (and that also what happens or when soldiers fail to comply with international law).”

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