No Harbour for War

Waging War on Iraq: A Brief Time-Line of Canadian Intervention since 1990


Fourth of a series on Canada's involvement in the Iraq war

HMCS IroquoisHALIFAX (24 February 2003) -- When Prime Minister Chretien spoke at a $400-a-plate Liberal Party fundraiser here in Halifax on 20 February 2003, he stated that Canada would only join a US-led attack on Iraq with UN Security Council approval.

He lied.

Canada long ago joined this war on Iraq: for the past 12 years the Canadian Navy has been enforcing a senseless, unjust and cruel economic war on the civilians of Iraq which has cost more than one million lives.

The deployment of the HMCS Iroquois to the Arabian Sea on Monday, February 24th marked an escalation of Canada's role in the war on Iraq -- long before UN approval, which may never come.

The HMCS Iroquois will be providing important "escort" functions for American aircraft carriers and protecting the vital oil shipping routes out of the region. The lives of our neighbours in the military and the resources of our nation are being used in the name of imperial expansion -- and we are being lulled into believing we are enforcing international law and fighting terrorism.

July 1990 -- [25 Jul] Saddam Hussein consults with the US, and is told by State Department spokesperson April Glaspie that Washington has "no special defense or security commitments to Kuwait." Glaspie then tells him, "we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait." Reportedly Hussein takes this as a green light from the US to proceed with the invasion. (New York Times/Montclair State University, US/Iraq Relations Timeline, Consortium News)

August 1990 -- [2 Aug] Iraq invades Kuwait, claiming it as its "19th province". The Arab world is split and polarised. [8-10 Aug] U.S. forces arrive in Qatar. [3 Aug] The Canadian Superintendent of Financial Institutions issues a direction to all banks not to act on behalf of, or with instruction from, any Kuwaiti Government agency. (This directive was rescinded after the passing of SCR 661.) [6 Aug] Canada supports United Nations Security Council Resolution 661, establishing a commercial, financial and military embargo against Iraq. [12 Aug] Iraq offers to withdraw if Syria withdraws from Lebanon and Israel from 1967 territories. Another offer to withdraw [23 Aug] if given guaranteed access to Gulf and full control of Rumailah oil field. [22 Aug] First anti-war demonstration in Halifax at U.S. Consulate. Almost weekly mass pickets as well as vigils continue throughout the fall and winter. [25 Aug] Big political-media "ceremony" at naval dockyards CFB Halifax to send off Canadian warships to the Middle East.

October 1990 -- [8 Oct] Canada sends eight jet fighters to Qatar to take part in the air blockade of Iraq.

November 1990 -- [Nov 8] The United States announces that it is doubling its troop presence in the region to over 400,000. [29 Nov] SCR678 authorises authorizes the use of "all means necessary" after 15 January 1991 deadline for Iraqi withdrawal. Cuba and Yemen voted against, China, a permament member, abstained, making it invalid (requiring a unanimous vote from the five permanent members to pass) and wihout the approval of the UN General Assembly.*

January 1991 -- [12 Jan] 800 Haligonians demonstrate against the war despite a snow storm, as anti war demonstrations break out around the world. [17 Jan] Canada joins 32 other countries in the U.S.-led attack against Iraq, “Operation Desert Storm” after an Iraq-Soviet peace plan is summarily rejected by the U.S. Some of the evidence used to convince other countries to join the coalition was later shown to be falsified: i.e., photographs of a Iraqi military buildup at the Iraq-Saudi Arabian border that never happened. 149 Americans and 25,000 Iraqis, mostly civilians and soldiers from "throwaway" regiments, die. Iraq is driven out of Kuwait, but no real effort to oust Hussein is made. The war costs $60 billion, which is paid for in large part by American allies. [Apr 6] The official cease-fire between Iraq and coalition forces is signed.

In violation of all international conventions, the "surgical" bombing campaign primarily targets water purification and sewage treatment plants, electricity production and distributions systems, bridges, roads, food warehouses, irrigation systems, refineries and pipelines in an effort to systematically destroy the infrastructure on which Iraq's civilian population depends for survival. (1) This targeting will continue through 2003, essentially destroying Iraq's water supply system and refusing to allow it to be rebuilt.

In supplying two destroyers -- the HMCS Terra Nova and the HMCS Athabaskan, the supply ship HMCS Protecteur, 24 CF-18 fighters with 450 personnel, and a Canadian field hospital with a protection force of over 500 people -- altogether about 1,700 military personnel -- Canada’s contribution to the war was surpassed only by the United States, Great Britain and France. (2) The country's first offensive military action since the Korean War is met with large-scale protests across Canada from Canadians but all "major" political parties (Conservative, Liberal, NDP, Reform) endorse the war.

Canada also played a key role in the research, production and testing of new weapons that were used against the Iraqi people in 1991: guidance systems for cruise missiles were produced by Litton Industries in Ontario and tested at the Primrose Lake Air Weapons Range in northern Alberta -- a NATO playground for weapons testing built on land expropriated from the Dene Suline First Nation by the Canadian government for this express purpose. (3)

After the war, Iraq is subjected to UN sanctions and divided into three sections, only one of which is under Saddam's direct control. (According to former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the no-fly zones as established by the US-led coalition are illegal. Asked why the zones were allowed to be created by the UN, he replied that the subject was never broached.) As an outgrowth of the Iraqi war, the US keeps 15-20,000 troops on permanent station in Saudi Arabia, though President Bush claims that all American troops have been brought home. Their presence was not admitted to publicly until 1995, and no explanation for their presence has ever been given.

Since the official end of the Gulf War, Canada has continued to express its political-diplomatic-military support for the regular bombing raids conducted by the United States and Great Britain in the illegal no-fly zones over Iraq. (4)

March-June 1991 -- Canadian Navy deploys the destroyer HMCS Huron to the Arabian Gulf to enforce the UN sanctions against Iraq.

February 1992 -- Canadian government announces its continued commitment to the Maritime Interception Force, a coalition formed uner the pretext of enforcing UN Security Council Resolutions against Iraq. The HMCS Restigouche is deployed to the Red Sea to prevent goods from entering Iraq through the Port of Aqaba, Jordan. Jordan was one of the Arab countries which had opposed the Gulf War.

1995-1998 -- The Canadian Navy continues its support of the Interception Force by deploying further ships to the Arabian Gulf to enforce sanctions, including the HMCS Calgary, the HMCS Regina, the HMCS Ottawa and the HMCS Toronto.

Canada maintains its steadfast support for the American and British-led bombing of the illegal no-fly zones, which, by 1998, is occurring on a quasi-daily basis. (5)

2000 -- HMCS Charlottetown is deployed to the Gulf, in addition the frigate HMCS Calgary, which is sent on a second voyage to the Gulf with 235 troops and an annual cost of 35 million dollars alongside American forces to monitor the implementation of the embargo against Iraq. (6)

February 2001 -- Canada is one of the few countries to support an illegal airstrike on the outskirts of Baghdad by the Unites States and Britain. The airstrike was a testing ground for the cluster bomb, which is a 14 feet long and carries 145 anti-armour and anti-personnel bomblets the size of soda cans that disperse over an area the size of a football field, saturating it with explosives and tiny shards of steel. Pentagon sources stated that 26 of the 28 bombs fired missed their targets. (7)

2001 -- The frigates HMCS Winnipeg and HMCS Montreal are deployed to the Gulf to continue to enforce sanctions.

War by other means

Although the Gulf War officially ended in 1991, the United States has continued its assault on Iraq through numerous covert military operations, a protracted air campaign, aggressive intelligence gathering and a naval blockade -- throughout which Canada has provided military assistance and unyielding political support.

Each year the Canadian military spends $34.9 million (1999 figure) to help impose the naval blockade of Iraq, effectively enforcing the illegal and cruel sanctions regime that has resulted in the preventable deaths of more than one million innocent Iraqis. (8) Canada's contribution to the enforcement of the economic embargo consists primarily of deploying warships to the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea to monitor shipping channels and prevent goods from entering Iraq.

Following the attacks of September 11th, there has been a steady deployment of Canadian warships to the Middle East as part of the US-led "War on Terror". However, while Jean Chrétien claimed that ships were sent in support of the "campaign against Osama bin Laden and the ruling Taliban militia," these Canadian warships were in no way equipped to wage a war against the landlocked country of Afghanistan. (9)

The HMCS Iroquois -- which first departed from the Halifax harbour on Monday, February 24, 2003 amidst mass protests held at the naval dockyards, CFB Halifax -- but has since been stalled by the crash of a Sea King helicopter -- is a destroyer outfitted to wage a war at sea against targets on the coast as well as enemy vessels and aircraft -- hardly suitable to fight the fictitious "Taliban Navy."

While the smaller frigate HMCS Fredericton was originally planned to depart from the Halifax harbour on 17 February 2003, Defense Minister John McCallum recently announced an abrupt change in plans in Canada's contribution to the War on Terror. McCallum declared that the larger and better equipped destroyer HMCS Iroquois would be sent over in place of the HMCS Fredericton on account of its greater size, more powerful missiles and sophisticated anti-aircraft/anti-submarine communications systems. The 5,100-ton Canadian destroyer will be the command-and-control base for a multinational task force of up to 20 ships in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, headed by Canadian Commodore Roger Girouard. The HMCS Iroquois and its crew of 300 will be patrolling the Gulf of Oman and the southern part of the Arabian Sea, with the stated functions of intercepting boats, enforcing sanctions and escorting allied vessels in the area. While the stated purpose of the HMCS Iroquois is currently to take part in anti-terrorist interdiction, if (when?) the United States decides to attack Iraq, Canadian navy and air force assets in the region will likely be instantly reassigned to protecting U.S. forces in the new Gulf War.

Economic warfare and the sanctions regime

As Defense Minister Art Eggleton stated on April 12 2000, "Canada has been participating in the enforcement of UN sanctions against Iraq for 10 years, and our contribution is viewed as crucial by our allies. This operation will further strengthen Canada's military relationship with the United States and reaffirm our commitment to peace and stability in the region." (9) While sanctions are, according to former Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy, "an indispensable tool in dealing with rogue states and actors," he also admits that they have "nonetheless had a dismaying impact on the health and welfare of Iraq's people. Canada acknowledged the blunt nature of sanctions and their disabling effect on individual people and entire societies." (10)

Indeed, the sanctions imposed on Iraq since 1990 -- the most severe in the history of the United Nations -- have systematically prevented the country from rebuilding destroyed infrastructure and repairing damage from the Gulf War, resulting in a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. Although medicine, food, and "supplies for essential human needs" were to be exempt from the sanctions, the arbitrary and ineffectual, as well as highly political process by which import goods are approved, has prevented the most basic needs of Iraqis from being met. (11) Due to problems related to contaminated water, malnutrition and the shortage of medication, the number of children who die needlessly in Iraq is appalling: according to a study conducted by UNICEF, 500,000 children under five have died as a result of the war and sanctions between 1991 and 1998, and continue to die at the steady rate of 150 to 200 every day. (11) Child mortality has quadrupled since sanctions were put in place: one in seven children in Iraq now die before the age of five. (12) Sanctions have also exacerbated the epidemic of cancer in Iraq by blocking much-needed equipment for contamination testing, and even painkillers. Statistics published in the British Medical Journal by the UN show a sevenfold increase in cancer in southern Iraq between 1989 and 1994, with estimates that 49 per cent of the population in southern Iraq will get cancer in their lifetimes. (13)

While the devastating effects of sanctions on the Iraqi people has prompted France, Russia and China to call for an early end to sanctions, Canada continues to vote in favour of extending sanctions as a member of the UN Security Council, thereby continuing to support what the former head of the United Nations "oil-for-food program", Dennis Halladay, has denounced as a "systematic program ... of deliberate genocide" against the people of Iraq. (14)

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* At the time of writing, Jon Elmer was a senior columnist at the Dalhousie Gazette at Dalhousie University, Halifax. The text was distributed as a pamphlet at the mass protest opposing the deployment of the HMCS Iroquois at the naval dockyards CFB Halifax on 24 February 2004. Jon Elmer and Valerie Zink now publish the online journal,

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* Two days before the Security Council vote on authorising use of force, Kuwaiti civilians and non-UN diplomats were granted unprecedented access to the UN Security Council to present a series of testimonies, and videos produced by Hill and Knowlton. ‘Citizens for a Free Kuwait’ had paid America’s largest public relations company over $10 million to drum up support for military action. ‘Nayirah’, a 15-year-old girl testified before the Congressional Human Rights caucus and recounted an entirely fabricated story of Iraqi soldiers removing Kuwaiti babies from incubators, stealing the incubators and leaving the babies to die. President Bush repeated the story six times in one month. During the debate in the US Senate vote on authorising use of US force, the story was recounted seven times. ‘Nayirah’ was in fact the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the US and Canada. Before war broke out, the Kuwaitis closed their account with Hill and Knowlton. In an interview one year after the war, a Hill and Knowlton employee stated that $10 million is about the same figure required to handle the PR for a presidential campaign.

1 Canadian Network to End Sanctions in Iraq,

2 "Canada at War: The country is already involved in a long-running battle with Saddam's regime", Sean Lamoney, Maclean's, 23 September 2002, p20.


4 Canadian Network to End Sanctions in Iraq,

5 Canadian Network to End Sanctions in Iraq,

6 VANA Update, Issue #44, April 2001; Canadian Network to End Sanctions in Iraq,

7 VANA Update, Issue #44, April 2001

8 VANA Update, Issue #44, April 2001

9 "Extending the War to Iraq?" Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG),

10 Canadian Network to End Sanctions in Iraq,;

11 Official Canadian government response to questions regarding the impact of sanctions on Iraq in 2000.

12 "A Canadian Policy Response to the Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq: A brief to the Standing committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade,"

13 Canadian Network to End Sanctions in Iraq,

14 Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau, 15 December 1999

VANA Update, Issue #44, April 2001

Canadian Network to End Sanctions in Iraq,;;
"A Canadian Policy Response to the Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq: A brief to the Standing committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade,"

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