Iraqis finally grant permission for Canadian shipment of small arms to Peshmerga fighters

Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq can expect to receive Canadian weapons, a senior defence official said Thursday. The Liberal government has finally received permission from the central Iraqi government in Baghdad, almost 10 months after the urgent military supplies were promised to help combat ISIS.

Kurdish commanders told CBC News last month they have an extensive list of needs

A Peshmerga soldier guards an outpost on Zardek Mountain, northwest of Erbil, in northern Iraq. (Murray Brewster/CBC)

The hold-up in arms delivery for Canada's Kurdish allies in northern Iraq, who have been impatiently waiting on the Liberal government to deliver on its promise to supply weapons, will soon be over, a House of Commons committee was told Thursday.

John Forster, the deputy minister of defence, said the central government in Iraq has now granted permission for the shipment of small arms, ammunition and optical sights to Peshmerga fighters.

The initial promise was made when the Liberal government revamped the mission last February, but delivery has been held up by the absence of approval from the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Kurdish authorities in the self-governing, semi-autonomous Kurdish region told CBC News in an interview last month that the country's complicated politics were at play.

The Kurds have made it clear they want their independence after ISIS is defeated and have even proposed a referendum.

Maj.-Gen Aziz Weisi, a senior Peshmerga commander, told CBC News last month (in an interview arranged by the Canadian military and conducted with the aid of a translator) that they understood the delay, but were anxious to see the weapons as the battle for Mosul unfolded.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Canada's top military commander, Gen. Jonathan Vance, asked Kurdish officials, both political and military, last spring to draw up lists of what they required.

That list was longer and more extensive than what Canadians has been prepared to deliver and include heavy systems, such as anti-tank rockets and armoured patrol vehicles.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters operate at the front line during a battle at Topzawa village on Oct. 24, 2016. (Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)

Canadian special forces soldiers, who are supporting the Kurds, have been forced to use their own armour-piercing rockets to destroy ISIS suicide truck bombs.

The deputy minister told the committee that approval for the weapons shipments came only last week.

"The actual transfer of equipment has not taken place yet," said Forster, who brushed past reporters refusing to answer further questions.

Other defence officials told the committee that roughly $9.5 million has been set aside in supplementary appropriations for the purchase of weapons for allies under Operation Impact, the military campaign against ISIS.

The weapons will be purchased on the open market.

Concerns over Kurdish independence

Canada sent two military cargo planes, loaded with weapons, to Iraq in the fall of 2014, not long after ISIS overran vast swaths of territory and declared the establishment of a caliphate. At the time, the United States asked its allies to supply arms and ammunition to the Kurds.

Throughout the conflict, the government in Baghdad has remained suspicious of efforts to arm the Kurds.

A Canadian military transport, carrying weapons for Canadian special forces in Erbil was refused permission to land in Iraq in the fall of 2015 on the suspicion the arms were bound for the Kurds.

The C-130J Hercules was held up for four days in nearby Kuwait waiting for permission from Iraq officials to proceed.