By Ali Ziad al Ali, researcher specialising in international and strategic affairs.
At the beginning of 2016, Canada announced, in the words of its Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, a strategy called the “Middle East Strategy”, which focused on ways of enhancing Canadian interests in the region, in general, and in Iraq, in particular. Canada’s strategy focused on the security and development aspects, as a means of enhancing its security and strategic interests in the region, where it plans to spend more than $ 2 billion on security, stability, humanitarian aid and development assistance.
Canada supports the Iraqi government’s efforts to restore stability, pacify community divisions, build effective and inclusive governance and stimulate economic growth. Canadian funded projects in Iraq, during the period from 2016 to 2019, amounted to approximately $240 million, which included $179 million in humanitarian aid, $38 million in development assistance and $24 million in support of stability and security in Iraq. Iraq’s strategic importance for Canada is clear from the latter’s commitment to support Iraq in the security, economic and cultural fields.
This strategy is Canada’s way of being more proactive in the region’s affairs and of expanding its influence there, having witnessed the region’s strategic dynamism; a region with its vast oil wealth and ideological importance.
In response to the escalation of strategic conflicts in the region, Canada has intensified its security interests in the region, in general, and Iraq, in particular, where it joined the international coalition against Daesh, and expanded the concept of its national security to integrate more closely with the realpolitik of the Middle East, especially with the emergence of the phenomena of terrorism, in the shape of Daesh and other terrorist organisations, which have evolved into a strategic threat to Canadian national security because of the large number of Canadians joining these organisations. Canada has thus set its priorities in Iraq through this strategy, which is centred around the following:
- Security and counterterrorism issues:
Applying this strategy, Canada has stepped up its military support in the fight against terrorism in Iraq, by participating in the international coalition’s military campaign against Daesh through the provision of logistical support, air support, refuelling and surveillance activities, as well as supporting the Iraqi government in training and military tactics, particularly for the Special Forces. Canada continues to support Iraq in counter-terrorism operations through tactical and intelligence support, as well as assistance with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear security; while maintaining a number of tactical training units whose main task is the training of Iraqi security forces, especially with counter-terrorism.
- Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons:
Canada is assisting with the issues of refugees and internally displaced persons by identifying the tools necessary for this strategy, as part of Canada’s policy for humanitarian relief, and by focussing attention on the plight of displaced persons in Iraq by increasing support for health care, education and food. Canada is also working to support Iraq in the resettlement of Iraqi refugees living in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey through its work with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). As of 2016, more than 23,000 Iraqi refugees have left the Middle East to settle in Canada.
- NGO issues:
Canada plays a major role in supporting and encouraging human rights organisations, especially those concerned with the empowerment of women’s rights and religious minorities. Canada is one of the first countries to support humanitarian organisations working in support of Iraq’s minorities, where it has provided support for several organizations that work with displaced minorities, especially those greatly affected by the presence of Daesh in their areas, and the resulting negative repercussions for these minorities.
- Development and food security issues:
Canada has provided support for food security and food development initiatives in areas that have suffered most from displacement and military operations, providing substantial food assistance to displaced people in refugee camps. It has also participated in initiatives to improve employment opportunities for young people by supporting and encouraging small projects and developing youth skills and capacities in the sphere of intellectual creativity.
Canada supports democratic practices and has extensive involvement in supporting democratic institutions in Iraq by strengthening public institutions which uphold democratic values and by providing support for relevant non-governmental organisations.
- Trade and economic reform issues:
Canada supports several organisations working on governmental economic reforms, and also provides support for a number of economic initiatives in Iraq’s private sector. It is also expending efforts on increasing bilateral investment and trade, noting that it has embarked on an expansion of its economic activities by marketing some of its products in the automotive, pharmaceutical and infrastructure sectors. The current volume of trade exchange between the two countries is around $200 million.
Canada is also working on increasing cooperation with Iraq in some of the strategic sectors, which centre on:
- Oil and gas:
Canada aspires to be a trading partner with Iraq in the strategic energy sector, especially the oil sector. Iraq and Canada are working to increase oil exports and to attract more Canadian investment in the energy sector, particularly in exploration and refining. Ultimately, Canada is aiming, at least in the short term, to increase the proportion of energy exports from Iraq to Canada.
Canada aspires to increase its share in the investment and reconstruction of Iraq’s strategic infrastructure and has the potential to become the leading country in the reconstruction of Iraq’s infrastructure, particularly in areas affected by military operations against Daesh.
3. Education and academic scholarships:
Canada enjoys an enviable reputation in the higher education field because of the large number of excellent academic institutions and universities it has. Both sides therefore aspire to strengthen academic cooperation and to work on implementing programmes for the twinning of Iraqi-Canadian universities, as well as increasing the number of Iraqi students attending on government sponsorships.
4. Banking and Finance:
Canada counts Iraq as a strategic partner for development in the region, assisting with the World Bank-administered Middle East Transition Fund, set up by the Deauville Partnership, and aspires to increase cooperation in financial investments in Iraq. Canada is looking to increase its involvement in the financing of Iraq’s infrastructure projects, and is working on expanding the horizons for financial cooperation through the development of a financial strategy to facilitate the opening of banks in Iraq. This would provide both parties with a strategically valuable opportunity to increase banking and other financial cooperation. It is noteworthy that the Canadian government has already announced its intention to implement its decision to grant Iraq a loan of $200 million and to allocate fundsamounting to £400 million for humanitarian assistance to aid stability, as part of the international efforts to stabilise the country.
Finally, it is possible to say that Iraq occupies an important place in Canada’s Middle East Strategy, especially following the rise of terrorism, in the form of Daesh, and its strategic legacies and repercussions for regional and global security. Canada has accordingly bolstered its role in Iraq in the fields of security and development, and both sides are keen to increase the level of cooperation to make it more strategically comprehensive. Meanwhile, Iraq would like to see greater participation by Canada in the reconstruction of infrastructure and security, as well as in financial investments.