Ot­tawa to ap­point first res­i­dent am­bas­sador to Iraq in 26 years

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MICHELLE ZILIO OT­TAWA

The Lib­eral govern­ment will ap­point a res­i­dent am­bas­sador to Iraq in the com­ing weeks, the first one Canada has had on the ground in Baghdad in nearly 26 years.

Sources told The Globe and Mail that nam­ing an am­bas­sador to Iraq is a part of the Lib­eral govern­ment’s re­tooled strat­egy to fight the Is­lamic State an­nounced in Fe­bru­ary, 2016.

It in­volved tripling the num­ber of Spe­cial Forces per­son­nel in Canada’s mil­i­tary as­sis­tance mis­sion in Iraq to 207, and a pledge of more than $1.6-bil­lion over the next three years for se­cu­rity, sta­bi­liza­tion, hu­man­i­tar­ian and devel­op­ment as­sis­tance in Iraq and Syria.

The govern­ment be­lieves the ad­di­tional mil­i­tary and devel­op­ment as­sets in Iraq re­quire more diplo­matic and po­lit­i­cal co-or­di­na­tion on the ground, the sources said.

And in­creased diplo­matic di­a­logue is needed to help bring sta­bil­ity to Iraq – which is di­vided by fight­ing be­tween fac­tions, in­clud­ing the Sunni, Shi­ites and Kurds.

As a re­sult, Canada’s mis­sion in Baghdad is ex­pand­ing and will soon be as­signed a res­i­dent am­bas­sador.

» It is not clear who the govern­ment will choose for the po­si­tion. For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land’s of­fice would not com­ment, but said Canada is in­creas­ing its diplo­matic pres­ence in the re­gion.

“To de­liver on Canada’s com­mit­ments, our diplo­matic foot­print in Iraq, Le­banon and Jor­dan is in the process of ex­pand­ing with up to 24 new field staff based in the re­gion to in­crease the ef­fec­tive­ness of our en­gage­ment and co-op­er­a­tion with lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional part­ners,” Ms. Free­land’s di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Joe Pick­er­ill, said in an e-mail.

Iraq’s am­bas­sador to Canada, Ab­dul Ka­reem, wel­comed Canada’s plan to ap­point a coun­ter­part in Iraq. He said it is im­por­tant that Canada demon­strate rec­i­proc­ity in its diplo­matic re­la­tion­ship with Iraq, which has an em­bassy in Ot­tawa and con­sulate in Mon­treal.

“It’s a huge step for­ward in the diplo­matic re­la­tion­ship be­tween Canada and Iraq,” Mr. Ka­reem said in an in­ter­view. “Many, many years … we didn’t have an am­bas­sador re­sid­ing in Baghdad. This re­flects the fact that we kind of hear with the new Cana­dian govern­ment that Iraq is a very im­por­tant coun­try for them.”

In the past, Canada’s am­bas­sador to Jor­dan had car­ried out diplo­matic du­ties for Iraq re­motely. Chargé d’af­faires Crys­tal Pro­cyshen is cur­rently the high­est-rank­ing Cana­dian of­fi­cial at the Baghdad mis­sion. Global Af­fairs said the mis­sion also em­ploys a devel­op­ment of­fi­cer, a de­fence of­fi­cer and lo­cal staff. Canada also has a diplo­matic of­fice in Erbil staffed by one Cana­dian po­lit­i­cal of­fi­cer.

The in­com­ing am­bas­sador will join the Baghdad mis­sion, which op­er­ates out of the Bri­tish em­bassy in the Green Zone, an area con­sid­ered the city’s safe haven.

Canada re-es­tab­lished res­i­dent diplo­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Iraq in April, 2013, af­ter then­for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter John Baird an­nounced plans for Canada and Bri­tain to con­sol­i­date con­sular ser­vices in some em­bassies. The first Cana­dian diplo­mat was de­ployed to the Bri­tish com­pound in the sum­mer of 2014, ac­cord­ing to Global Af­fairs. Canada had not had an em­bassy and res­i­dent am­bas­sador in Baghdad since 1991, when the em­bassy shut down be­fore the Per­sian Gulf war. Christo­pher Poole was am­bas­sador at the time.

While Mr. Ka­reem be­lieves it is only a mat­ter time un­til Canada opens an in­de­pen­dent em­bassy, he said he does not have any knowl­edge of that hap­pen­ing for sure.

For­mer Cana­dian am­bas­sador Ferry de Ker­ck­hove says nam­ing a Cana­dian am­bas­sador will send two key mes­sages to Iraq.

“There are some busi­ness in­ter­ests,” he said. “There’s oil and gas, and we are a coun­try deal­ing with oil and gas, and some of our guys would love to put their hands on it. Some of them are al­ready in­volved, but hav­ing an am­bas­sador there is pro­vid­ing sup­port in terms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the govern­ment and there­fore try­ing to beat the com­pe­ti­tion.”

Bi­lat­eral trade be­tween Iraq and Canada was val­ued at $180.4-mil­lion in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the Global Af­fairs web­site. While the depart­ment says Canada’s mer­chan­dise trade re­la­tion­ship with Iraq has less­ened since 2015, it notes that many sig­nif­i­cant com­mer­cial op­portu- ni­ties still ex­ist, es­pe­cially in oil and gas, in­fra­struc­ture, ed­u­ca­tion, agri-food, and bank­ing and fi­nance.

Mr. de Ker­ck­hove said the move will also show the Iraqis that Canada trusts them enough to pro­vide se­cu­rity for an am­bas­sador in Baghdad.

While Mr. Pick­er­ill could not speak specif­i­cally about se­cu­rity plans for the Baghdad mis­sion, he said pro­vi­sions and as­sess­ments are con­stantly re­viewed and se­cu­rity is a top pri­or­ity with any changes to staffing.

DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Young Iraqi men push a cart car­ry­ing an el­derly woman in Mo­sul on Thurs­day. Ot­tawa says Canada is in­creas­ing its diplo­matic pres­ence in Iraq, and will add ‘up to 24 new field staff based in the re­gion.’

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