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Canadian troops will leave Iraq if a formal request to do so is made by the Iraqi government but discussions are ongoing to convince that nation of the value of having foreign soldiers stay.
Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Friday that there are ongoing discussions with the Iraqi government about the mission in that country. “Obviously the Iraqi government has concerns,” Sajjan said. “We’re listening to those concerns.”
“It’s important to have discussions about what we’ve accomplished together,” Sajjan added, noting that the extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) still poses a threat.
But Sajjan added: “We are there at the request of the Iraqi government. If they were to change that we would have to respect that.”
Iraq’s parliament recently held a non-binding vote calling for foreign soldiers to leave but it would be up to the Iraqi government to follow that up with a formal resolution requesting that the U.S. and its allies depart. Iraq’s caretaker prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has also requested the Americans work out a roadmap for the withdrawal of the 5,200 U.S. soldiers in the country. That follows street protests in which Iraqis called on both Iran and the U.S. and its western allies to leave.
The Iraqis are upset about being caught in the middle of fighting between U.S. forces and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.
The U.S. has rejected outright even discussing the removal of its soldiers from Iraq. U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to punish Iraq with significant economic sanctions if foreign soldiers are given the boot.
Iraq’s parliamentary vote was pushed by Shiite lawmakers who represent the majority of the population. Kurdish and Sunni lawmakers want U.S. and NATO troops to stay to counter ISIL as well as Iranian influence in the country.
Trump instead wants NATO to expand its presence in Iraq and the Middle East and U.S. government officials have had talks with NATO about that.
The Canadian Forces temporarily suspended its training activities in Iraq as a result of an increase in tensions following the recent U.S. assassination of a top Iranian general in Baghdad. The Canadian military has about 500 personnel in Iraq. Some are assigned to what the Canadian Forces call Operation Impact while others are part of a NATO training mission. The Canadian military personnel are training and advising Iraqi troops.
Canadian military personnel have been in Iraq since the fall of 2014, when then Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed Canadian fighter jets and special forces to the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau withdrew the jets but increased the number of Canadian military personnel on the ground.
Earlier this week Canadian special forces in Iraq resumed their activities, according to the Department of National Defence.
But Sajjan declined to provide any details about the special forces mission, stating that such information is withheld because of security reasons.
In 2015 and 2016 the Canadian Forces provided briefings about special forces activities including details about various skirmishes. But since then little information has been released.
The NDP, which supports Canadian military training of Iraqi forces, wants the special forces mission to be shut down. It has questioned whether Canadian special forces are in combat and has raised concerns about the secrecy surrounding the mission the commandos are undertaking.
The Conservatives support a continued Canadian presence in Iraq.
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