With disaster unfolding in Iraq, we urgethe prime minister to organize with the secretary general of the United Nations an immediate ceasefire so that aid and an international team of humanitarian inspectors can enter the country. We believe this is an important step for a government whose position on the ground leaves much room for worry.The feds have said that Canada will not join the war in Iraq, but the realities in the Persian Gulf tell a different story.
The war on terrorism has integrated our forces in the region with those of the U.S. to such a degree that it's hard to tell the difference between supporting the war and not supporting it.
We have patrol frigates escorting U.S. warships all the way to Kuwait, Aurora surveillance planes feeding reconnaissance information to the U.S. Fifth Fleet and a handful of soldiers aboard U.S. warships and perhaps deployed in combat units in Kuwait.
Most Canadians, if they knew, would ask why the Air Force is also spending $1.2 billion to upgrade CF-18 fighter-bombers to, in part, make better use of advanced weaponry such as laser-guided bombs.
Will they help in the defence of Canada? No. Are they needed for UN peacekeeping missions? No. Are they needed for Canada's CF-18s to join in U.S.-led bombing campaigns? Absolutely.
Had the government decided to support the war, Canada would have deployed practically the same number of ships and planes to conduct virtually the same missions they are carrying out right now.
The problem is that U.S. forces and our own are so integrated, the government is reluctant to withdraw or reassign them.
This brings us to Canada's international commitments -- especially to disarmament and similar agreements that govern the use and conduct of armed conflict.
Canada supports the International Criminal Court, the Geneva Conventions, the Land Mines Treaty and nuclear disarmament. The same is not true of the United States.
Canadians will remember that Taliban prisoners were handed over to U.S. forces by members of Canada's Joint Task Force 2 in Afghanistan, against cabinet's wishes.
Will our commitments once again be undermined by the presence of Canadian military personnel in Iraq and the Persian Gulf region?
What will happen when a Canadian soldier serving with a U.S. combat unit is ordered to lay land mines? Should he refuse? And if he doesn't, would this not be a violation of our commitments under the Land Mines Treaty -- a treaty championed by Canada?
These issues will persist as long as Canada does not reassign our ships and aircraft to other missions where there is a clear distinction between the war on terrorism and the invasion of Iraq.
Before the war, an estimated 5,000 Iraqi children under the age of five were dying each month from malnutrition, contaminated water and lack of medicine. Shipments of aid have ceased because of the war. People are running out of food and water. Steven Staples is a military analyst with the Polaris Institute, an Ottawa-based public interest research group.