Trudeau announces Canadian-led NATO mission in Iraq as Trump complains about defence spending

 Trudeau announces Canadian-led NATO mission in Iraq as Trump complains about defence spending

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland take part in North Atlantic Council Working Session at the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium on July 11, 2018.


Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press


The Trudeau government has committed Canada to a new military mission in Iraq at the outset of a NATO summit where Canadian and European allies are under fire by U.S. President Donald Trump for what he considers insufficient defence spending.


Canada will assume command of a new NATO training mission in Iraq. A Canadian major-general, to be announced, will serve as commander.


Up to 250 Canadian troops will be posted to Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, to help protect and guide an operation that will instruct Iraqi troops on measures they can take to prevent a re-emergence of Islamic State militants and other threats to their country. In 2014 when Islamic State jihadists overran Iraq, significant parts of the Iraqi government armed forces collapsed, with soldiers abandoning their uniforms and gear.


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Although the Iraq government has regained control over much of its territory, even Baghdad remains extremely dangerous. A Canadian Global Affairs department travel warning for Iraq last month stated: “Car bombings, vehicle ambushes and mortar and rocket attacks occur regularly across the country, including Baghdad … resulting in numerous fatalities.“


Only about 50 of the deployed Canadian soldiers will be assigned to train Iraqi government troops, with more trainers coming from other NATO member countries. Another 125 will be assigned to provide “force protection” for NATO headquarter operations in Baghdad. A further 20 will be deployed to help run the headquarters.


The prime minister says 250 Canadian troops will be deployed to Iraq, as part of the NATO training mission Canada will command for its first year. Justin Trudeau made the announcement at the NATO summit in Brussels Wednesday. The Canadian Press


David Perry, vice-president and senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, a think tank, said he believes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Wednesday announcement was calculated to demonstrate to Mr. Trump that Canada is pulling its weight in defence contributions.


“This is a very tangible example,” Mr. Perry said of the new Canadian mission, saying it helps underpin Canada’s argument it should be judged on its military contributions to international operations.


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This deployment devotes only a small portion of troops to training but Mr. Perry said Canada’s contribution to securing NATO headquarters is sorely needed. “One of the difficulties NATO has faced standing up for this mission was concerns over force protection. There were countries interested in providing troops for training but they had concerns over who was going to be providing their security – it was one of the critical shortages that had been holding things up,” he said.


“We are proud to take a leadership role in Iraq, and work with our allies and the government of Iraq, to help this region of the Middle East transition to long-lasting peace and stability,” Mr. Trudeau said in a prepared statement Wednesday.


NATO member-country leaders began their annual summit in Brussels Wednesday, and Mr. Trump has been vociferously criticizing allies, including Canada, Germany and others, for failing to meet a NATO guideline to devote 2 per cent of their annual economic output to military spending.


Canada, which spends about 1 per cent of this country’s gross domestic product on military budgets, has announced plans to boost defence spending in future years but it still won’t reach 2 per cent. Canadian prime ministers, from Stephen Harper to Justin Trudeau, have said this country should be judged on the quality and regularity of its commitment to NATO missions. In 2014, however, Mr. Harper signed a NATO communiqué that said countries below 2 per cent should “aim to move towards the 2 per cent guideline within a decade.”


It’s not clear how much of this new Canadian NATO deployment is merely a reassignment of existing Canadian operations in Iraq.


Canadian special forces had been training and advising Iraqi forces for several years, including Kurdish peshmerga from the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan.


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Last October, Canada suspended assistance to peshmerga fighters as well as to Iraqi government forces amid escalating fighting between the two parties after the Kurds made a failed bid for independence from Baghdad. Last month General Jonathan Vance, Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff, said Canadian troops were only training Iraqi government forces from now on.


The military does not disclose how many Canadian special forces are currently in Iraq but defence analysts think there are only several dozen present now.


On Wednesday, Gen. Vance told reporters accompanying Mr. Trudeau that the Canadian special-forces mission in Iraq will continue in Iraq, separate from the new NATO deployment.


The Canadian military will command a new NATO training mission in Iraq starting this fall. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters in Brussels Wednesday that supporting democracy is among Canada’s strengths. The Canadian Press