COVER

CANADA AT WAR

The country is already involved in a long-running battle with Saddam’s regime, writes

SEAN MALONEY September 23 2002
COVER

CANADA AT WAR

The country is already involved in a long-running battle with Saddam’s regime, writes

SEAN MALONEY September 23 2002

CANADA AT WAR

COVER

Essay

The country is already involved in a long-running battle with Saddam’s regime, writes

SEAN MALONEY

MASTER SEAMAN Steve St. Amant remembers being aboard the frigate HMCS Toronto as Canada prepared to go to war against Iraq. The crew was used to conducting drills with the ship’s sophisticated weaponry, which included surface-to-air missiles. Now, suddenly, St. Amant and his colleagues faced the real thing. “We were heading for Portugal when the captain told us that we were going to the Persian Gulf to be part of the effort to confront Saddam Hussein,” St. Amant recalls. “Jaws dropped and one young guy started crying. We stopped in Crete and loaded up with nuclear, biological and chemical defence equipment. It was very, very tense.”

The 1991 Gulf War? Think again. It was 1998, and the Canadian sailors steaming toward the Gulf were part of a massive multinational force assembled for yet another showdown with the Iraqi dictator. Saddam’s regime had been interfering with the United Nations’ efforts to identify and dismande his country’s weapons of mass destruction. Saddam blinked first, allowing inspectors temporarily back into the country, and St. Amant

never saw conflict. But although it is not well known, the Canadian Forces have been part of a series of operations in and around Iraq since 1988, all in an effort to control the aggressive dictator. Now, with the world poised at the edge of the latest

phase of the long-running Iraq War—that is what it has been—our soldiers will likely soon be deployed against Saddam again, no matter what Jean Chrétien is saying now.

The actual Gulf War ended in 1991, with the expulsion of Saddam’s forces from Kuwait and the imposition of economic sanctions to force Iraq to comply with UN resolutions and dismantle plants capable of producing biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Iraq did not fully comply with the UN, and the second phase of the war started. It has been a conflict characterized by covert operations, a protracted air campaign, aggressive intelligence gathering and a naval blockade.

Since 1991, American, British and, at times, French aircraft have conducted a deadly cat and mouse game with Iraq’s air defence forces. On an almost daily basis since January, 1998, Iraqi forces have

OUR FORCES have been part of a series of operations in and around Iraq since 1988, and will likely soon be deployed again-no matter what Ottawa now says

tracked and, in many cases, shot at coalition aircraft enforcing no-fly zones in the south and north of the country. In practically every case, coalition aircraft have returned fire with anti-radar missiles and smart bombs. On four occasions between 1994 and 1998, Iraqi mechanized forces have also manoeuvred to threaten Kuwait or Jordan. To counter these moves, the coalition conducted major operations, sending, for example, 28,000 troops and 300 aircraft to the Gulf in 1994.

Throughout, Canada has supported U.S.

attempts to contain Iraq, and our armed forces have conducted no less than 10 operations in the region—in the air, on the ocean and in the desert. The first foray came under Operation Vagabond in 1988, with the deployment of a signals regiment of 525 soldiers and 15 military observers to support UN peacekeeping efforts at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. At the time, the Canadians also spent several months gathering intelligence on Iraqi Republican Guard forces. Three years later, those Iraqi forces faced the coalition in the Gulf War, in which Canada

deployed three warships, 24 CF-18 fighters, as well as a field hospital and protection force comprising 500 people.

Canada’s armed forces never left the region following the the Gulf War. Immediately afterward, they took part in Operation Assist. Officially, Canada supplied a medical unit and three aircraft with a total staff of 122 as part of a multinational operation to bring humanitarian assistance to Kurds who had fled from Iraq into the rugged mountains of southern Turkey. But according to declassified Canadian documents, the operation was

part of an effort to stabilize the area militarily, allowing Western forces to conduct covert operations inside northern Iraq in support of Kurds opposed to Saddam.

Canada was also an enthusiastic supporter of UNSCOM, the UN special commission charged with ensuring that Saddam was stripped of all weapons of mass destruction. Throughout the past decade, 12 Canadians, both civilian and military, worked inside Iraq under the UN to gather information on Saddam's alleged nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs. At the conclusion of the Gulf War in 1991, Canada also deployed 15 military observers and a combat engineer regiment of 300 men with the UN’s Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission in a desert buffer zone extending up to 15 km into Iraq. That zone continues to serve as a warning line, allowing Kuwaiti and American troops time to mobilize if Iraqi ground forces start moving toward Kuwait. And from 1998 to 2001, Canadian frigates were attached to U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups to support actual

WHILE CANADIANS are aware that our ships have been enforcing sanctions, little has been said about their direct military role

strikes against Iraq, both from the air and with ship-based cruise missiles.

Although Chrétien has been critical of U.S. threats to attack Saddam, the Canadian deployments since 1988 were designed to support the American strategy to contain Iraq. And while others have accused George W. Bush of acting unilaterally in the Gulf, Canada has even more reason to stand with the Americans now than in the past. There is enough detailed information available from groups across the political spectrum, including the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Iraq Watch and the International Institute for Strategic Studies, to conclude that Iraq could have crude nuclear weapons

within three years.

Some analysts have also suggested that the West should wait until there is clear evidence that Saddam has such weapons before reacting. This is a difficult argument to accept, because once in Iraq’s possession, the weapons could lead to a doomsday scenario. Saddam would be able to counter coalition efforts to deter Iraq from invading its neighbours. There could also be a nuclear arms race in the region as Iran accelerates its own nuclear weapons program. If either country succeeds, it could cancel out Israel’s nuclear deterrent, forcing it to make a pre-emptive nuclear strike against its enemies. And al-Qaeda or similar groups could also target North America or Europe with weapons from Iraq. With so much at stake, it’s almost certain that Canada will play a role in what may be the final phase of the Gulf War. CA

Sean M. Maloney is a professor of war studies at the Royal Military College of Canada. Hls most recent book is Canada and UN Peacekeeping: Cold War by Other Means 1945-1970.