Iraqis seize Canadian Forces aircraft, accuse military of moving weapons to Kurds without approval

Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornets depart after refueling with a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, Thursday,  Oct. 30, 2014, over Iraq. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Perry Aston

Iraqis seize Canadian Forces aircraft

Iraqi officials temporarily seized a military aircraft carrying weapons for Canadian special forces in Kurdistan, amid a wave of anti-western conspiracy theories rife in Iraqi politics.

The seizure and the reasons for it raise questions for Canada’s new Liberal government, which has vowed to do more military training in the country.

Iraqis seize Canadian Forces aircraft Hercules transport aircraft, carrying supplies into Kurdistan without authorization, for four days.

Some Iraqis are concerned that the Kurds, who ultimately want independence for their territory, will use the support and weapons they receive from the U.S.-led coalition to eventually break away.

Other Iraqi lawmakers and military commanders claim that the U.S. and its allies have secretly armed the Islamic State (ISIL) in order to keep the country in chaos.

The Department of National Defence confirmed that there were problems with a Canadian Forces aircraft that landed in Baghdad on Oct. 28.

“While flying in support of Operation Impact, a CC-130 Hercules was denied onward movement to Erbil, Iraq, by authorities at Baghdad International Airport, due to an issue with customs documentation with respect to its cargo,” said Department of National Defence spokesman Evan Koronewski.

Both the Canadian Forces and the Department of Foreign Affairs discussed the issue with Iraqi officials. The transport plane was allowed to fly back to Kuwait four days later. “No equipment or cargo was confiscated by Iraqi authorities,” Koronewski added.

For security reasons, the Canadian Forces declined to describe the equipment being transported or the Canadian unit for which it was destined.

Canadian special forces are operating in Erbil in northern Iraq. Members of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment from Petawawa, as well as the Joint Task Force 2 counter-terrorism unit from Ottawa, have served on the task force.

Hakem al-Zameli, head of the Iraqi Parliament’s Security and Defence Commission, told local media that two aircraft had been seized: one from Canada and the other from Sweden. He said that the crews were trying to fly weapons into the Kurdistan region without informing the Iraqi government.

“The inspection committee in Baghdad International Airport has found a huge number of rifles equipped with silencers, as well as light and mid-sized weapons,” Zameli said.

Zameli called on the Iraqi foreign ministry to protest the incident and warn coalition members not to proceed with such shipments in the future.

“The U.S. ambassador to Baghdad has tried to send the weapons to the Iraqi Kurdistan region, and the government should investigate this and arrest the perpetrators,” he added.

Zamli said eight weapons equipped with silencers were discovered on the Canadian plane. The Swedish aircraft, also on its way to Kurdistan, carried 92 guns, including silencers, he added. The Swedish aircraft was sent back to the Turkish base it had flown from.

Iraq’s government tries to strictly control the types and amounts of weapons that are being moved by the coalition to Kurdish forces. Some Kurds have not hidden their desire to have their region completely independent from Iraq.

Other Iraqi lawmakers have accused the U.S. of secretly arming ISIL to fuel the ongoing crisis in the country. By shoring up ISIL, the U.S. and other western interests have an excuse to maintain a presence in the oil-rich nation, they argue.

The latest move by the Iraqis, and the distrust by some Iraqi lawmakers of coalition efforts, could create problems for the Liberal government’s plans to expand military training in Iraq while halting Canada’s bombing mission. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not yet outlined whether the increase in training, a key plank during his election campaign, would involve the Kurds or Iraqi forces.

The office of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan did not provide comment.

On a number of occasions, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has accused the coalition of not doing enough to fight the Islamic State. He has also complained that Iraq is not receiving the military equipment it needs.

In addition, tensions have increased between the Iraqi government and the Kurds.

In June, officials with the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq criticized the government based in Baghdad for excluding it from a key meeting in Paris and snubbing the peshmerga fighters who are being trained by Canada and other nations. “Unfortunately, the Iraqi government refused our request,” a statement from the autonomous region’s department of foreign relations noted. “It is known, both internally and internationally, that the most effective force fighting (ISIL) terrorists on the ground and in a direct manner are the peshmerga.”

In May, Brig. Gen. Kurt Crytzer, a U.S. special forces commander, said claims that the U.S. is arming ISIL are hindering military operations and at one point Iraqi militia forces opened fire on an American helicopter because they believed it was bringing supplies to Islamic State gunmen.

Crytzer blamed Iran, which is jockeying for influence in Iraq, for fuelling such rumours.

An Iranian news agency has also reported on the Oct. 28 incident involving the Canadian and Swedish aircraft, noting the previous accusations of coalition forces arming ISIL.

The U.S. has acknowledged that at least one airdrop of supplies inadvertently landed last year within ISIL lines in Syria.

Several months ago, ISIL boasted of seizing U.S. weaponry and more than 2,000 American-supplied Humvees left behind on the battlefield by fleeing Iraqi troops.

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