In The Media

Ottawa to appoint first resident ambassador to Iraq in 26 years

by Michelle Zilio (feat. Ferry de Kerckhove)

The Globe and Mail
January 13, 2017

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 then-foreign 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 opportunities 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.

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