Report: Canada to Step Up Weapons Shipments to Iraqi Kurds Fighting Islamic State

Kurdish Peshmerga members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in the town of Koya, 100 kms north of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on March 19, 2016.

A report in Kurdish Iraqi media cites Canada’s Defense Ministry as confirming that Ottawa will be shipping new weapons to the Peshmerga, the Kurdish military force fighting the Islamic State in northern Iraq.

Kurdistan24 cites the Iraqi Kurdish outlet Xendanwhich published a report citing a spokesperson for the Canadian Defense Ministry stating that new weapons would soon be on the way. “Canada had requested the Iraqi government to send an official endorsement on the arms delivery to the Kurdish forces and we have received Baghdad’s official endorsement, signed in December of last year,” Dominique Tessie, communications adviser, reportedly told Xendan. Kurdistan24 adds that the Canadian government had previously promised $9.5 million in new firearms and other military assets to the Peshmerga and that this latest shipment would include only light arms to be used in the fight against the Islamic State.

The Peshmerga is the military arm of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) based in northern Erbil, Iraq. The KRG routinely cooperates with both the Iraqi government in Baghdad and foreign coalition forces, such as the Canadian and American militaries.

The report on Canadian arms shipments follows the official announcement of a new Canadian embassy to open in Baghdad. “To deliver on Canada’s commitments, our diplomatic footprint in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan is in the process of expanding with up to 24 new field staff based in the region to increase the effectiveness of our engagement and cooperation with local and international partners,” a Foreign Affairs Ministry official told Canada’s Globe and Mail, as relayed by the Kurdish outlet Rudaw. Canada has not had an embassy in the country since 1991.

Canadians have nonetheless played a pivotal role in the war against the Islamic State, particularly alongside Iraqi Kurdish forces. An extensive 2015 report in Canada’s National Post detailed the work Canadian troops were doing alongside the Peshmerga. “The Canadians are among our most important guys,” a Peshmerga official told the publication, which added that the fighters “stressed again and again how immensely grateful they were to Canada for the unique role [they] have been playing in the war against ISIL.”

In a separate report from McClatchy in March 2015, unnamed Peshmerga officials echoed these sentiments. “The Canadians have been the most aggressive around Erbil, regularly visiting the front lines and helping call in airstrikes,” one official told the outlet.

Canada’s Armed Forces summarized their work on the ground in Iraq in a briefing in November 2016, noting that they began their cooperation with Kurdish forces against the Islamic State there in 2014. “The situation between Daesh and the Kurds remained largely unchanged until the summer of 2016. During that time, the Special Forces provided training,” Major-General Mike Rouleau told reporters, adding that Canadian troops increasingly ceased to train Kurdish forces because “the Kurds were assimilating our training well and were incorporating it into their units.”

The Peshmerga have played a pivotal role in the liberation of Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq and the Islamic State’s regional capital there. While ISIS has managed to continue controlling the western half of the city, the Iraqi government recently announced that it had completely liberated eastern Mosul and reinstated public transportation services there. The Peshmerga and largely Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) served to maintain control over the suburbs of Mosul, to prevent Islamic State terrorists from escaping. Only Iraqi Army soldiers were officially allowed into Mosul city limits.

The Iraqi government has requested that the Peshmerga leave the area once the Islamic State is completely eradicated. “There’s an agreement [that existed] before we started the offensive to liberate Mosul between the KRG, the Kurdish Regional Government, and the Iraqi federal government that we work together, they help liberate the Iraqi security forces in liberating Mosul,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said this week. “On this basis, there is an agreement and cooperation for Iraqi security forces to go through the KRG and they launch their offensive from the KRG area into Mosul.”