OTTAWA – Former prime minister Jean Chretien has weighed into the debate about the federal government’s decision to send special forces to northern Iraq to help fight an extremist group, warning it could pull Canada into further commitments in the region.
In an interview with CBC radio broadcast on Saturday, Chretien says Canada is now fully a part of the action being taken against the extremist al-Qaida splinter group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
Chretien — who famously refused to join the American-led coalition that invaded Iraq in 2003 because it was not sanctioned by the United Nations — says Canada’s involvement in a mission in Iraq is “a done deal.”
He also told the CBC he finds the Harper government’s insistence that Canada’s current contributions aren’t a combat mission “a bit unusual.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the current Canadian commitment is limited to 69 special forces commandos who are to only advise and assist Iraqi forces and Kurdish fighters who are resisting ISIL forces in northern Iraq. The deployment is to be reviewed within 30 days.
But Chretien says he thinks that commitment could grow, with Canada being pressed to contribute further.
He compared the current situation in Iraq with the war in Vietnam, saying the U.S. began its actions there with “a few advisers.”
“You cannot be a little bit in it. You’re in it or out,” Chretien told CBC. “The other side knows we are part of it. Of course if they refuse to act, the partners will say you are not keeping your word.”
The New Democrats pounced on the remarks using them to bolster their opposition to sending the advisors without more information about their involvement.
“He’s a former prime minister who has been through this kind of experience before when he had to decide whether or not we would sign up for the war in Iraq in 2003,” New Democrat MP Paul Dewar said in an interview.
“His opinion and experience is worthwhile for that reason.”
The New Democrats used Chretien’s comments against Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who has supported the government’s decision to send advisors. Dewar noted that Trudeau has often praised former Liberal prime ministers like Chretien.
“This is a very substantive foreign policy matter,” Dewar said. “I think this is something that is worthy of noting, particularly when there has been a lack of clarity from Mr. Trudeau on this issue.”
“I think it’s just showing I would say a lack of understanding and clarity from Mr. Trudeau on these very important foreign policy issues.”
Trudeau’s office did not immediately respond to the New Democrat comments.
The U.N. Security Council urged the international community on Friday to expand support for the Iraqi government as it fights the Islamic State group and its allies.
© 2014 The Canadian Press