Wikileaks, Canada, Iraq & the mainstream media

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In the Wake of Wikileaks:

A Media Critique of Revelations about Canadian Duplicity in Iraq

By Richard Sanders, coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade and editor of COAT’s magazine Press for Conversion!

“One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.”
Mark Twain, Vice President, American Anti-Imperialist League, and erstwhile writer.

As antiwar activists struggle to oppose Canada’s open participation in the bombardment of Libya and the lies about humanitarianism used as pretexts to rationalize it, we should reflect upon Canada’s covert role in yet another U.S.-led war in the Middle East and the media falsehoods used to revive the deception that Canada refused to join the Iraq War.

Thanks to a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, a small crack recently appeared in the still-prevailing national mythology that Canada’s government did not to participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Although few members of America’s “Coalition of the Willing” actually contributed more to the Iraq war than did Canada, this fact is still being covered up by our mainstream media. Ironically, the media’s unwillingness to report pervasive evidence of Canada’s deep complicity in Iraq was exemplified by recent coverage of the WikiLeaks memo which exposed this country’s shameful duplicity in that illegal war.

The WikiLeaks document in question is an unclassified U.S. embassy communication with Washington which describes a meeting between Canadian, American and British officials, just two days before the war’s launch. While Prime Minister Chrétien and his Liberal cabinet were assuring the public that the government was refusing to endorse — let alone take part in — the Iraq war, top Foreign Affairs’ bureaucrats were secretly promising substantial military assistance and diplomatic support for the U.S.-led offensive.

Although media coverage of the WikiLeaks memo painted the story as if this hypocrisy was a startling new revelation, Canadian involvement in the Iraq war has long been documented by antiwar researchers.

The memo, for example, comes as no surprise to the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT) which has itemized a litany of significant Canadian contributions to the Iraq war. In fact, the WikiLeaks revelation vindicates COAT’s efforts to counter this media fable since March 2003.

Although the Wikileaks’ disclosure confirms Canada’s true commitment to supporting the Iraq war, news coverage was disappointingly brief, shallow, misleadingly vague and, in some cases, even helped perpetuate the prevailing myth on noninvolement. Like a small corrective footnote deeply buried in the recesses of the media’s fine-print, this recent newsflash in the WikiLeaks pan could not erase all the damage done by years of countless stories reinforcing the fraudulent official narrative that Canada stayed out of Iraq.

Revealing what was known
The WikiLeaks document is ingenuously called “Canada won’t join military action against Iraq without another UNSC [UN Security Council] Resolution.” Contrary to this misleading title, the memo actually confirms Canada commitment of armed-forces personnel, and billions of dollars worth of warships and warplanes to help wage the war.

This flies in the face of the frequently-stated government policy postulating Canada’s supposed stand against the war.

The leaked U.S. report summarises a meeting in Ottawa on March 17, 2003, in which top Canadian, American and British diplomats met to discuss Canada’s support for the imminent assault on Iraq. This was the same day that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien took centre stage in Parliament to posture publicly as if the Liberal government was refusing to assist the attack.

On the next day in Washington, then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell unveiled the names of 30 countries in the so-called “coalition of the willing.” These nations, he explained, had “publicly said they could be included in such a listing.” Powell then revealed that “there are 15 other nations, who, for one reason or another, do not wish to be publicly named but will be supporting the coalition.” Canada was, no doubt, on the top of this secret list of willing Iraq-war collaborators who were unwilling “to be publicly named.”

Then, on the following day, the opening phase of the U.S.-led assault began with the infamous “shock and awe” bombardment of Iraq. These brutal attacks were launched, in part, from U.S. aircraft carriers which had just been escorted through the Persian Gulf and into the warzone by Canada’s allegedly-peaceful and supposedly-uninvolved warships.

Although the U.S. document outlines Canada’s official policy of abstaining from the Iraq war, it concludes with damning evidence of the exact opposite:

“Following the meeting, Political Director Jim Wright emphasized that, despite public statements that the Canadian assets in the Straits of Hormuz will remain in the region exclusively to support Enduring Freedom [i.e., the Afghan War], they will also be available to provide escort services in the Straits and will otherwise be discreetly useful to the military effort. The two ships in the Straits now are being augmented by two more enroute, and there are patrol and supply aircraft in the UAE which are also prepared to ‘be useful.’….They are also prepared to be as helpful as possible in the military margins…”

This offers a rare glimpse into the usually hidden world of lies, deception and treachery that are the staples of diplomatic culture.

As the U.S. memo confirms, Canada’s immediate support for the Iraq war included two multi-billion dollar warships already in place and ready for action. Chrétien’s officials then upped the ante by generously pledging that Canadian warships already in the Straits would soon be “augmented by two more” that were conveniently enroute.

Previous COAT research had already shown that, in 2003 alone, Canada deployed at least five Canadian frigates and one destroyer to the Persian Gulf. With 225 sailors on each frigate, and 300 aboard the HMCS “Iroquois” destroyer, Canadian naval personnel deployed in war’s first nine months numbered at least 1425.

The WikiLeaks memo divulged that on the eve of the Iraq war, Canada already had “1280 military personnel…in the region,” and that it “intends to leave” these forces in place. Among these forces were personnel attached to Canada’s “patrol and supply aircraft in the UAE which are also prepared to ‘be useful’” to America’s Iraq-war effort. This disclosure concerning Canadian air support corresponds to COAT research on military surveillance/spy (“patrol”) planes (CP-140 “Auroras”) and transport/cargo (“supply”) planes (CC-130 “Hercules”), that Canada contributed to the Iraq war.

We already knew that 200 flight crew and support personnel operating/maintaining two Canadian “Auroras,” plus 180 additional Air Force personnel associated with the three “Hercules” aircraft, were among the Canadian military forces involved in the Iraq war. Added to our naval forces, this brings the initial 2003 total to 1,805. This is a far cry from the mere 31 Canadian “exchange troops” that Chrétien’s government claimed were in Iraq serving under U.S. and UK command.

To these numbers we could also add many more, including dozens of Canadian warplanners who helped prepare for the invasion.

Canada was certainly off to a good start in its so-called nonparticipation in the Iraq War!

COAT has also brought to light details about three top Canadian generals who, serving as deputy commanders of the multinational forces fighting the Iraq war, led tens of thousands of troops between 2004 and 2009.

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