Now Denmark Is Going Back to Iraq, Too

Danes join an expanding Western coalition

Now Denmark Is Going Back to Iraq, Too Now Denmark Is Going Back to Iraq, Too
A Danish C-130J Hercules transport plane is heading to Iraq alongside Danish support troops. Seven years after bowing out of the U.S.-led occupation, the... Now Denmark Is Going Back to Iraq, Too

A Danish C-130J Hercules transport plane is heading to Iraq alongside Danish support troops. Seven years after bowing out of the U.S.-led occupation, the Danes are joining a new and rapidly expanding military coalition battling the Islamic State militant group.

The four-engine cargo aircraft likely will set up in Irbil, the capital of Iraqi’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Denmark’s contingent in Iraq will total around 55 people, including cargo specialists and people whose job it is to coordinate operations with local authorities.

The deployment “[supports] the international efforts against ISIL and assist Iraqi authorities in protecting the civilian population against the violent attacks and atrocities,” according to Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

ISIL is one of many acronyms foreign governments use to describe Islamic State, which captured much of northwestern Iraq starting this summer.

“Denmark’s contribution to the ongoing military operation in Iraq will of course not eliminate ISIL completely, but aims at helping the Iraqis in engaging and countering ISIL’s current offensive,” Danish foreign minister Martin Lidegaard explained.

Islamic State’s Sunni extremists are fighting government forces in both Iraq and Syria. The group claims it has established a new Islamic caliphate in the region, but it lacks capacity to govern and enjoys practically zero legitimate ties to other countries.

Copenhagen says it made the decision to intervene after Washington and Baghdad both asked for help. The Pentagon has been bombing the Islamists and dropping humanitarian aid since early August.

A Danish soldier working with Iraqi forces in 2006. U.S. Defense Department photo

The Royal Danish Air Force will probably spend its time hauling military gear and humanitarian aid into and around Iraq. Two weeks ago, European Union diplomats okayed sending weapons to Kurdish forces, as well as food and medicine for civilians.

Earlier this week, U.S. defense secretary Chuck Hagel named Denmark as one of seven countries—besides the United States—which would be sending guns and other equipment to the Kurdish Peshmerga security force. Albania, Canada, Croatia, Italy, France and the U.K. also are helping the Kurds.

But the small Scandinavian nation could drift into a broader mission. Copenhagen has already green-lit the deployment of “an additional security detachment, should that be deemed necessary,” according to an official release.

Denmark had a complicated experience with the last Iraq war, as well. Danish troops helped in the ultimately futile search for Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.

Commandos from the Jaegerkorpset—the Hunter Corps, a.k.a. Danish Special Forces—reportedly also took part in the opening stages of the American-led invasion in 2003. But according to the U.S. Army’s official history, Copenhagen never publicly confirmed this particular detail.

In 2007, the Irak Mission came to an end as domestic support for the war eroded. Seven Danes died in five years of fighting in Iraq.

Now Denmark is part of a new American-led coalition—and the Danish public might not be entirely thrilled at the prospect of another open-ended operation.

At top—A Royal Danish Air Force C-130J takes off from Nellis Air Force Base during a training exercise. Defense Command Denmark photo