Canada capable of sending big force to Iraq if necessary
Date: Thursday, October 03 2002
Topic: International News
Wednesday, October 02, 2002
OTTAWA (CP) - Canada could make a "sizable commitment" to any war in Iraq, Defence Minister John McCallum says, despite longstanding concerns the military is already stretched to the limit. McCallum made the comments Wednesday as the government scrambled to clarify its position on whether it supports a strike against Iraq, and under what conditions.
After repeated questioning from opposition and reporters, both the prime minister and foreign minister stressed they only support a strike by the United States if it is done under the auspices of the United Nations.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien said Canada will back the United States and insist that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein agree to a new, toughly worded UN resolution before weapons inspectors head back to Iraq to fish out any remaining weapons of mass destruction.
"We believe in multilateralism and we have to have all the coalition working together to make sure that this type of armament will not be used either against (Saddam's) own people or neighbouring nations," Chretien said.
He added that another debate would be held in the Commons should Canada be asked to help out in a strike.
McCallum emphasized that no decision has been made on whether Canada would get involved in any military action in Iraq if it comes to pass.
But he said the Canadian Forces could provide a military contingent similar to the one that helped fight the war on terrorism in Afghanistan. That involved more than 2,000 army, navy and air force personnel.
"If the government calls upon us, we will be able to make a sizable commitment," he said.
Military experts and opposition parties have complained that Canada's armed forces are already stretched too thin.
Canada pulled its ground troops out of Afghanistan after six months, and military brass said it was because the Forces couldn't sustain a longer deployment.
Canadian soldiers are also personally suffering from too many rotations overseas - in the wake of a 25 per cent cut in military spending through the 1990s, and a drastic dwindling of their numbers.
Paul Cellucci, U.S. ambassador to Canada, lauded the Canadian Forces's contribution in Afghanistan and hoped they would be able to continue supporting U.S. military efforts.
"We think that more resources need to be allocated so the Canadian military has the troop strength it needs, (and) it has the inter-operability capability with the U.S. forces," he said Wednesday in Toronto.
Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper said Wednesday that any involvement in a U.S.-led war with Iraq would be "extremely limited."
Leon Benoit, Alliance defence critic, agreed Canada could make a substantial contribution, but only for about six months. After that, he suggested, the military would run out of steam.
McCallum refused to say whether Canada would be limited to a six-month operation.
In the Commons, the Opposition said the Liberals' stance on war against Iraq has been inconsistent and will likely damage relations with their neighbour to the south.
The Liberals say they haven't wavered on the subject since the beginning.
Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham bristled Wednesday at the idea floated by the White House that having Saddam assassinated would be cheaper than going to war.
"The United States is . . . not in favour of assassination as a way of dealing with international politics, or we'll all go down a road which would be very unfortunate for all of us," he said.
"Unfortunately, when you decide to have one person assassinated, it isn't necessarily that person that's the only person that's assassinated."