May 10, 2021
The Canadian personnel were told by their officers the problem would be dealt with, but they were to continue with their processing of the Iraqi troops for training
This 2019 file photo shows a Canadian Forces member at a U.S. base near Mosul teaching combat skills to Iraqi Wide Area Security Forces. PHOTO BY SPC. DEANDRE PIERCE /Combined Joint Task Force – Oper
By David Pugliese | Ottawa Citizen
Canadian soldiers complained to their commanders that the Iraqi troops they were training were war criminals who liked to show videos of their atrocities, including executing prisoners and raping a woman to death.
But, after reporting their concerns to the Canadian military leadership, the soldiers were told to continue the training and avoid watching the videos the Iraqis wanted to share with them, according to Canadian Forces documents obtained by this newspaper.
Although the incident took place Sept. 18, 2018, the troops from Garrison Petawawa continued to voice their concerns last year about whether their complaints about the training of potential war criminals were ever acted upon.
The Canadians had been sent to a U.S. base near Mosul to train the Iraqi Wide Area Security Forces (WASF) as part of the international effort against the terror group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The videos being circulated by the WASF troops showed the actions of some of the same personnel the Canadians were ordered to instruct.
“These acts included violence pertaining to rape, torture and execution,” said a September 2020 briefing to the commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment at Garrison Petawawa. The videos, the document noted, showed some of the Iraqi students “raping a woman to death; the torture and execution of a line of bound prisoners whereby they were beaten to death with what appeared to be a rebar steel bar; the execution of bound prisoners by shooting; and the execution of a man by hanging him from the barrel of a MBT (Main Battle Tank).”
At least five Canadian Forces sergeants and two master corporals saw the videos, which they immediately reported to their leadership in Iraq. One sergeant recommended temporarily ceasing routine activities and dealing immediately with the issue.
The Canadian personnel were told by their officers the problem would be dealt with, but they were to continue with their processing of the Iraqi troops for training. The Canadians were told not to view or accept any videos from the Iraqis they were to train, according to the document.
Later, back in Canada, the soldiers who reported their concerns tried unsuccessfully to find out if their complaints had prompted any action. The incident in Iraq was reported three times to military leaders. “We remain uncertain whether appropriate action was effectively taken,” stated the briefing sent by one soldier through his chain of command.
“I am an ethical man and I believe in our moral doctrine and the LOAC (Law of Armed Conflict). I am bothered by the fact that my assigned duties allowed me to train and enable people who in my mind were criminals.”
The Canadian Joint Operations Command said it could not provide a response at this time to questions this newspaper submitted May 6. The command oversees the Iraqi and Middle East mission called Operation Impact.
But a source familiar with the military’s response noted the soldiers were told the matter was mentioned in an after-action report and they shouldn’t have been surprised by the situation they faced in Iraq.
Some of the soldiers involved have already been released from the Canadian Forces after suffering from operational stress injuries.
The terrorist group ISIL committed large-scale atrocities in Iraq. But Iraqi forces, which were often made up of sectarian militias, were also accused of war crimes. In 2017, a U.S.-trained Iraqi division was accused of conducting executions and other crimes in Mosul, Human Rights Watch reported.
One month before the Canadian soldiers reported their concerns, Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, then Canadian commander of the NATO training mission in Iraq, told journalists he was confident the alliance would be successful in screening out any war criminals. Military personnel would teach Iraqi military instructors various skills under the program and they would in turn pass on those skills to other Iraqi troops.
“I think we have a pretty good vetting process in place to screen out those potential instructors to ensure we have quality people, that they — the Iraqi government — feel confident with,” Fortin said.
On March 30, Canada announced it was extending its military mission in Iraq and the region for another year. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Operation Impact would continue until March 31, 2022. The purpose of the mission is to build the military capabilities of Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, according to the Canadian Forces.
Operation Impact started in 2014 with the Canadian military at first contributing fighter jets and special forces to the war against ISIL. The Liberal government later withdrew those aircraft, but expanded the training mission by special and regular forces.
Currently 500 Canadian military personnel are assigned to Operation Impact, which includes a headquarters in Kuwait. There are also two Hercules transport aircraft assigned to the mission.
The one-year extension includes the authority to increase the numbers of Canadian personnel up to 850, if needed.
So far, Operation Impact has cost Canadian taxpayers more than $1 billion. That does not include salaries of military personnel, as that money would have been spent regardless, according to DND.