Harper makes surprise visit to Iraq, commits $139 million in new aid
Michelle Zilio, CTVNews.ca
Published Saturday, May 2, 2015 7:00AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 2, 2015 7:15PM EDT
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a surprise trip to Iraq Saturday, meeting with the country’s prime minister and announcing a substantial new aid commitment for the war-torn region.
The Canadian government announced $139 million for Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon to help the region deal with the overwhelming refugee crisis triggered by the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group. The money is in addition to the $67 million Canada has already committed to Iraq for measures such as food relief and emergency shelter.
The trip comes as a scheduled fall election looms back home, and as Harper positions himself as a leader who will stand up to global terrorism.
It was a whirlwind trip for Harper, who arrived in Erbil Saturday after visiting Baghdad. He was greeted by the president of Iraq’s Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, and an honour guard of peshmerga fighters. He then made his way to the presidential palace in the Green Zone, where he was welcomed with full military honours.
Harper was not far from where Sergeant Andrew Doiron was killed and three other Canadians injured in a friendly fire incident on the frontlines in early March.
With a report on the incident expected soon, Harper faced questions on Canadian soldiers’ mission in Iraq. Harper said he wouldn’t comment on operational plans, but that the friendly fire incident hasn’t strained relations between the Canadians and Kurds.
"We'll get the facts, but let it not obscure, frankly, the respect I think we should have for the Kurdish fighters in this area,” Harper said. “Back last summer when ISIS was literally overrunning this entire country with virtually no resistance at all these were the people who stood up and resisted them and stopped them.”
A Kurdish general expressed regret at what happened, saying it was an error of miscommunication. He offered his condolences to Doiron’s family.
The prime minister’s visit comes as Iraq’s Shiite-led government considers its next move in the fight to degrade ISIS in the country’s northern and western regions. Canada has committed troops and warplanes to the U.S.-led mission against the terror group in Iraq and Syria.
Harper and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met for 40 minutes. They talked about the war, the brutal way ISIS has targeted ethnic minorities and efforts to stop Canadians from joining the militant group.
"We're obviously here to discuss not only our relationship, but the obviously very special issue in terms of countering ISIS," Harper said in a brief address Saturday. “You can be sure we will continue to work with you going forward, not just on the security problem, but on the greater humanitarian and development issues this is causing for the Iraqi people."
Haider al-Abadi praised Canada for its contribution to the fight against ISIS.
There are 69 Canadian special forces training Kurdish peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq. Canada has also contributed six CF-18 jetfighters, a CP-140 Aurora surveillance plane and a C-150 Polaris tanker to the U.S.-led air campaign bombing ISIS strongholds. The Canadian mission was recently extended to the end of March 2016.
After wrapping up his trip to Iraq, Harper arrived in Kuwait Saturday to visit the Canadian Air Force personnel conducting air strikes on ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The prime minister’s trip was kept tight-lipped for security reasons. There was a media blackout about the trip until reporters were told an embargo was lifted. Harper is also scheduled to visit the Netherlands this week, where he will take part in celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Holland.
Canada’s involvement in the fight against ISIS will likely be a wedge issue between the federal parties in the lead-up to and during the scheduled October federal election. Both the NDP and Liberals voted against the mission extension in March.
With files from the Canadian Press and CTV Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife