Jan. 19, 2004 – US President George Bushâ€™s announcement last Tuesday that Canada would be allowed to bid on billions of dollars in American-financed Iraqi reconstruction projects came in the wake of an ongoing controversy surrounding the degree of Canadaâ€™s involvement in the war.
Canada was excluded from the first negotiations in December when the Pentagon announced a directive that limited the bidding on Iraq contracts to companies from the 63 countries that had given political or military aid in the Iraq war. However, despite Canadaâ€™s official position of non-involvement in Operation Iraqi Freedom, observers contend that the country had given significant military aid to the war effort.
Evidence that Canada was involved in the war includes the use of Canadian military personnel aboard the US Air Forceâ€™s E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning And Control System air craft. The E-3 Sentry provides all-weather surveillance, command, control and communications for the military. According to the US Air Force, one such aircraft, "carried approximately 180 members from the 552nd Air Control Wing -- the wing's Canadian component -- and 513th Air Control Group reservists. The units were deployed supporting operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom."
Also, early last February, Commander Roger Girouard assumed command of the new navy Task Force 151, located in the Persian Gulf, under an agreement by Ottawa and Washington. According to the Globe and Mail, the Task Force was responsible for escorting ships, intercepting and boarding suspect ships and guarding against attacks on shipping. Girouard was in charge of up to 20 allied ships from several different countries, including the United States, France, Italy, Greece and Canada.
However, Howard Michitsch, a retired major with the Princess Patriciaâ€™s Canadian Light Infantry, said that this move was not a contribution to the war on Iraq, but rather to the war on terror. "It frees up American ships to go on, in any attack on Iraq....but it does sort of rule out any Canadian contribution" he told CTV.
Observers also say that Canada aided the Iraq war by providing strategic support. Reuters reported that on February 11, before Canada had taken an official position on the possible war on Iraq, Canada transferred 25 military planners from US Central Command in Tampa, Florida to the US command post in Qatar. According to Canadian Defense Minister John McCallum, the only other three countries involved in military planning at this base were the United States, Britain and Australia. Defending the move, McCallum told reporters, "This is prudent military contingency planning. In the military, you have to hope for the best and plan for the worst."
Further, the Canadian Government allowed US planes on route to Iraq to fly through Canadian air space and to refuel in the country. However, according to the Ottawa Citizen, officials in Newfoundland said that the USâ€™s use of the airports for refueling dropped after the first 3 weeks in March because of "bad blood between Canada and the United States over the war in Iraq." A spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa told the Citizen that there had been no change in policy towards Newfoundland.
Despite the USâ€™s original decision to forbid Canada from bidding on Iraqi reconstruction contracts on the grounds that it had not supported the war, several US diplomats gave Canada credit for aiding the war effort.
Last month, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said that US appreciated "the contribution [Canada has] made, both in Afghanistan and to Iraq."
And last March, during the war, in a speech to the Economic Club in Toronto, US Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci stated that, although he was disappointed in Canada for not participating in the "Coalition of the Willing", Canadians indirectly provide more support for the US in Iraq than "most of those 46 countries that are fully supporting us. It's kind of an odd situation."
When asked to for comment on the USâ€™s reversal, disarmament activist Richard Sanders said, "The reason we were given for not being able to bid was because we didnâ€™t help out with the war. Now we are able to bid. Does that mean that they acknowledge that we did help?"