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Canada prepared to act with allies against Islamic State: Harper

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird (left) and Iraqi Foreign Affairs Minister Hoshyar Zebari hold a joint news conference, Wednesday, September 3, 2014 in Baghdad, Iraq.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada is prepared to act with major allies against the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, the al-Qaeda splinter group that is causing chaos from Syria to northern and western Iraq, Stephen Harper said Wednesday.

His comments come‎ as Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird made a surprise visit to Iraq to offer aid and discuss how to respond to Islamic State's advance across the failing state.

‎"We're speaking to our allies about how we can do that and what the best strategy is going forward," Mr. Harper told a crowd in London where he talked up trade between Canada and the U.K.

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‎"The position the Government of Canada has generally taken in those kind of situations is where there is a common threat to ourselves and our allies, and where particularly our major allies – United States and also the United Kingdom, France – are willing to act, the general position of the government of Canada is that we're also willing to act and prepared to play our full part," the Prime Minister said.

‎Mr. Harper did not give any hint of what Canada might do. He was asked if Canada would deploy soldiers or equipment to Iraq or stick to humanitarian aid, but did not say.

‎Mr. Bai‎rd announced $15-million in aid to Iraq including $10-million in non-lethal military aid as well as funds to help stop foreign fighters from entering Iraq and Syria.

A meeting with President Fuad Masoum was first on Mr. Baird's jam-packed agenda as the Canadian delegation, including opposition MPs, donned flak jackets for a heavily guarded, high-speed dash to the presidential palace.

"We are many – all Canadians in government – deeply concerned with the security threat," Mr. Baird told the president.

"We wanted to come here to show our solidarity with the Iraqi people. We want to congratulate you on your nomination as president."

Baird also met prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi and Foreign Affairs Minister Hoshyar Zebari. "I'm here in Iraq to demonstrate Canada's commitment to Iraq's stability, security, and prosperity," he said.

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He condemned what he called the "barbaric" advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaeda splinter group wreaking havoc across Syria and northern and western Iraq.

ISIL, also known as ISIS, has claimed responsibility for the beheading deaths – each depicted in videos released on the Internet – of two U.S. journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

On Monday, the United Nations Human Rights Council said it would investigate ISIL's possible crimes against the civilian population.

The UN says more than 1,400 Iraqis were killed – the vast majority of them civilians – in August, a decline from the previous month's death toll of more than 1,700. In June, the death toll hit 2,400, Iraq's highest since the spring of 2005.

Opposition MPs Paul Dewar and Marc Garneau, the NDP and Liberal foreign affairs critics, accompanied Mr. Baird to Baghdad at his request in a show of non-partisan political solidarity.

At the request of Iraq and the U.S., Canada, France and Italy have joined Britain and Australia by helping transport guns, mortars and ammunition to Iraqi forces.

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Canada has contributed two military transport planes to the region, a CC-130J Hercules as well as a CC-177 Globemaster, which last week successfully delivered weapons donated by Albania.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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