News / Canada

Defence chief defeating ISIL alone won't bring peace, stability to Iraq

OTTAWA — Western military intervention may have prevented a "short-term calamity" in Iraq, but it is only the start of a long effort to bring peace and stability to the country, says Canada's defence chief.

"My belief is that the work we're doing now militarily in Iraq is the first step in a long, long journey to ensure the success of that region into the future," Gen. Jonathan Vance told the Senate defence committee Wednesday.

Concerns about Iraq's long-term stability are mounting after its parliament sacked a high-profile minister for the second time in a month.

Finance minister Hoshiyar Zebari was impeached Wednesday on allegations of corruption — the same fate that befell defence minister Khaled al-Obaidi at the end of August.

The allegations have not been publicly proven, and some believe they are actually politically motivated and intended to weaken Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's grip on power.

There has also been an uptick in violence between some of the various Iraqi groups, including Kurdish forces and Shia militias, that have until now been united in their fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Thomas Juneau, an expert on Middle East politics at the University of Ottawa, said the fear is that such infighting will only increase as Iraq's various ethnic, religious and political factions begin to stake out ground for the post-ISIL era.

"Everybody's fighting ISIL right now," he said. "But this coalition — in the loosest term — against ISIL is very weak in the sense that the only glue that holds it together is fighting against ISIL. So the more ISIL weakens, the more glue that barely holds this coalition together also weakens."

Vance told the Senate committee that ISIL — also known variously as the Islamic State, ISIS and Daesh — will be dismantled or at least rendered militarily insignificant in Iraq. However, he said there are a variety of other issues that need to be addressed, including the country's many political, economic and social challenges.

"Political stability, the rule of law, democratic principles, all of that, is of huge importance to the long-term success of Iraq," he said.

"We prevented the short-term calamity that would have been the Islamic State in Baghdad. But there's lots more to be done."

But Juneau said that is more easily said than done.

The reality is that the West doesn't have as much sway over internal Iraqi politics as it would like to believe, he noted. As a result, the divisions that many have blamed for creating the conditions to let a group like ISIL grow are unlikely to go away any time soon.

"In practice, there's very little that can be done," Juneau said. "What everyone is realizing is this pressure is not working."

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