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Canada seeking controls before sending arms to Kurds in Iraq

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters fire an anti-tank cannon on the front line near Hasan Sham village, Iraq, on May 29, 2016.

SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

Canada wants "adequate controls" in place before sending arms to Kurdish forces in Iraq, as human rights groups warn that weapons supplied by the U.S. and other countries are contributing to war crimes.

The Liberal government said last February that Canada would give the Kurds small arms, ammunition and optical sights as part of its revamped mission to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The weapons will be purchased on the open market for a total of $9.5 million and are expected to include rifles, machine-guns and light mortars, though the government has not said how many of each or what type.

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Defence officials indicated last month that the final obstacle to actually delivering the weapons had been cleared, after the central Iraqi government in Baghdad signed off on the plan.

There had been questions as to whether such approval would be given, as the weapons could be seen as eventually helping the Kurds to attain their stated goal of independence from the rest of Iraq.

National Defence spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier says the government is working with potential suppliers to determine the best method to buy the weapons, with an eye to signing contracts soon.

But Canadian officials are also drawing up legal agreements, Le Bouthillier said, which must be signed by both Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government before any of the arms are delivered.

The agreements "will help ensure adequate controls are in place to govern the use of the equipment," Le Bouthillier said, adding that the government still doesn't know when the weapons will finally arrive.

The new delay is likely to frustrate the Kurds, who have emphasized the urgency of getting better weapons for their fight against ISIL.

But the need for proper oversight was highlighted by an Amnesty International report last week, which said weapons from the U.S., Russia and Iran were being used to commit war crimes in Iraq.

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Some of those weapons were originally provided to the Kurds, the report said, but have since ended up in the hands of paramilitary groups and have been used in abductions and murders.

"Supplier states must ensure that stockpiles are secure and well managed and not at risk of diversion or theft," the report said.

"This should involve strengthening controls over each stage of the arms transfer process, including transportation, delivery mechanisms, stockpiling, end use and eventual decommissioning."

Human rights groups have also previously accused the Kurds of committing human rights violations by destroying non-Kurdish homes in territory liberated from ISIL and refusing to let non-Kurds return.

Canada was at one point seeking Kurdish assurances that any arms would be used in accordance with international law, but military officials say they have seen no sign of Kurdish human rights violations.

The Kurds have fiercely denied allegations of rights violations or war crimes.

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"Ultimately, it is incumbent on the states exporting to Iraq to demonstrate that there is no substantial risk that arms will be used for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law," the Amnesty report reads.

"If they cannot do that, no transfer should take place."

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