PM says 'it's possible' Canadian soldiers in Iraq

A British army officer says Canadian soldiers are in combat in Iraq.

Ottawa now admits that some Canadian soldiers are in Iraq, even though Canada refused to join the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein.

Thirty-one Canadians are with U.S. and British troops in the Gulf as part of a military exchange, and a British army officer told CBC News that some of the Canadians are in combat.

But the prime minister continues to deny any Canadians are directly involved in the fighting.

For days the federal government has refused to disclose any information about the Canadian soldiers in the Gulf.

On Thursday, Bloc Qubcois Leader Gilles Duceppe asked the prime minister to finally admit that having soldiers alongside coalition troops is the same thing as formally entering the war against Iraq.

Prime Minister Chrtien says Canada isn't at war with Iraq. But he conceded that some Canadian soldiers could be with U.S. and British troops inside the country. "It's possible," he said, "but they are not in combat roles."

But Lieut.-Col. Ronnie McCourt told CBC News, in an interview at command headquarters in Doha, Qatar, that some Canadians are on the front lines.

"They are in combat," he said, "and there's always a risk there."

Duceppe says five U.S. soldiers captured in Iraq were assigned to maintenance units. He says it's ludicrous to suggest that the Canadian soldiers in the region aren't involved.

"When you are at war, you are at war. If you're in maintenance, or if you're in combat directly."

NDP Leader Jack Layton says having even some soldiers in combat means Canada is at war, in violation of its stated policy. "They've told us that we're not involved. The House of Commons adopted a motion saying we're not to be involved. Now it's clear that we are involved. It's outrageous," he said.

The New Democrats are demanding that Defence Minister John McCallum be held in contempt of Parliament unless he discloses where the soldiers are. McCallum has refused.

The federal government is apparently prepared to accept the risk that some of its soldiers could be killed or captured, in a war that Canada refused to join.