Yesterday, the Opposition raised a question of privilege, accusing the Harper government of misleading the House on the nature of Canada’s military role in Iraq. (The mission is known as Operation IMPACT, and you can find the official DND page describing it here.)
Specifically, the Opposition wanted to pin the government down on the definition of combat. Responding was house leader Peter Van Loan, and his response, while underreported (hey, it wasn’t Question Period) is still a pretty good one:
We think self-defence is not combat. We think it is common sense. We think it is what anyone would expect their troops in the field to be able to undertake. The mission is a mission to advise and assist. There is nothing in that mission to prevent our soldiers from defending themselves if they should come under fire.
The opposition, keeps using some funny terms that seem very odd to me. One is “front lines”. Another is “combat zone”. The opposition seems to think that the advise and assist mission means that our forces will never be on the front lines of the combat zone. “Front lines” is an archaic image. This is what we had in World War I, when soldiers were in trenches. There is nothing like that right now. Right now, in a place like Iraq, where our special forces are on the ground, everything is the front line. Everything is the combat zone.
In fact … the combat zone is not just in Iraq. The front lines are not just in Iraq. The combat zone, the front lines, are in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, where a Canadian soldier was killed. They are at the National War Memorial. Those are the front lines now. It is a terminology I frankly do not understand from the opposition.
I heard the hon. member say that he expects that Canadian soldiers will be “behind the wire”. They are in Iraq. There are no Canadian bases in Iraq. There is no wire to be behind. It shows a remarkable lack of understanding of what our forces are doing there.
The fact is that they are in a dangerous place, and in that dangerous place, doing the dangerous work of advising and assisting, they have, and should have, every right to defend themselves. No one has ever told this House of Commons or suggested, not this government at least, that our soldiers should go there with their hands tied behind their backs, restricted from doing that. That is the fundamental difference in this debate, and that is what it is. It is a debate.
Of course, the Opposition are right to be worried that Canada’s current role may, in the long term, escalate into something protracted and more deeply involved. But at the same time, it’s important to emphasize that the nature of the beast is, most definitely, not the same as the one that drew Canada into Afghanistan, and Mr. Van Loan does deserve kudos for drawing attention to that fact.