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Canadian commander explains how troops are responding to Iraq escalation

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The rocket attacks had been going on for months, as armed groups hostile to the United States made a nuisance of themselves, trying to signal to international coalition troops they were not welcome in Iraq.

Then the spiral began.

The U.S. killed Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general responsible for supporting the militias behind the rocket attacks, and Tehran responded by launching more than a dozen missiles into Iraq, striking a military base where Canadian troops were stationed.

In a phone call Saturday with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the Jan. 8 attack by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards that he said had “put the lives of Canadians at risk in Erbil, Iraq.”

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The incident changed the risks to Canadians troops in Iraq. Instead of quietly backing militia groups targeting military facilities used by the U.S., Iran had openly entered the conflict.

 

“Indirect fire on coalition bases has been happening for months,” the commander of Canada’s mission, Brigadier-General Michel-Henri St-Louis, told Global News in Kuwait on Sunday.

“But in the period we’re talking about, in the last 10 days, I think it’s important to remind ourselves that there has been a significant shift.”

 

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“The attacks of Iran into Iraq are a point-in-time of which there has been a movement in what the threat is, and that is significant and that is what we’re adapting to.”

Global News was not permitted to visit the Kuwaiti airbase where the Canadian Forces are stationed. Instead, Brig.-Gen. St- Louis met a reporter at the Canadian ambassador’s residence in Kuwait City.

In the interview, he described how the Canadian Forces were responding to the heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. He also explained why Canada’s unfinished mission needs to resume.

Until it does, however, the Canadian military’s efforts to train and build up the Iraqi security forces so they can secure the country, particularly from the resurgence of the Islamic State, have halted.

The training provided both through Operation Impact, Canada’s contribution to the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve, and the NATO Mission in Iraq, are on an “operational pause.”

The troops are hunkered.

“Those two campaigns have put the training effort on pause as we calibrate ourselves, survey the force protection measures and are ready to react to whatever threat has increased in the last days,” said St-Louis, the commander of Joint Task Force Impact.

He would not disclose how many Canadian soldiers had been moved to Kuwait from Iraq, only that “troops have been repositioned in accordance to our reading of the threat in order to ensure the safety of our force.”

 

Kuwait is the headquarters of Canada’s mission in Iraq, which now also stretches into Jordan and Lebanon. From there, the Canadian Forces have staged the evolving fight against ISIS that began in 2014.

Initially, Canada participated in airstrikes against ISIS, then contributed helicopters and a Hercules transport plane, and later a hospital.

Since the territorial defeat of ISIS, first in northwest Iraq and then last year in northeast Syria, Canada has been focused on helping strengthen the Iraqi security forces.

The Canadians have been training the Iraqis to clear roads of improvised explosive devices in areas formerly held by ISIS, while teaching explosive ordinance disposal and communications.

To prevent the spillover of ISIS into neighboring countries, they have also been teaching winter warfare in Lebanon, and mentoring Jordan’s first all-female infantry platoon.

But as St-Louis put it, the region is “complex and volatile.”



Guards throw stun grenades at protesters after they storm U.S. embassy in Baghdad

On Dec. 27, a rocket attack on the K-1 airbase in Kirkuk killed an American contractor working as a linguist. Four U.S. troops and two members of the Iraqi security forces were injured.

The U.S. hit back hard, striking the Iranian-supported Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria, killing more than two dozen fighters and prompting a siege at the American embassy in Baghdad.

Next came the fateful U.S. drone strike on a vehicle carrying the Kataib Hezbollah leader and his Iranian benefactor Soleimani, whose clandestine Quds Force supports armed factions throughout the Middle East.

Furious over Soleimani’s killing, Iran began threatening retaliation, prompting Canada and other coalition countries to announce they would be pulling some of their troops out of Iraq to Kuwait.

“Throughout all that period, we were constantly adjusting our force posture, we were constantly assessing the threat, and making the decisions that were required to ensure the safety of the force,” St-Louis explained.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards responded early on Jan. 8, pausing Soleimani’s funeral to launch Operation Martyr Soleimani. More than a dozen missiles were fired at two military bases in Iraq.

Canadian military personnel were at one of them.

“The soldiers sought shelter and resumed the mission afterwards,” Brig.-Gen. St-Louis said.

While Iran claimed to have killed 80 and wounded 200, there were no casualties, leading to a back-up narrative that the attack was only a display of the accuracy of Iran’s missile program.

“Iran decided to conduct ballistic strikes into Iraq,” St-Louis said. “We were able to adopt the force protection posture that was required. And at the end of the day, we ensured the safety of our troops with no coalition or Canadians that were injured.”

He would not say whether the Canadian Forces were warned in advance about the missile strikes, saying that “as we are still in this complex and dangerous environment, I prefer not to clearly state what we knew, what we didn’t know.”

“I will just say that we adopted the force protection measures.”

But while Canada’s troops survived the Iranian missile barrage, hours later Iran launched another missile, this time at a passenger plane carrying 176, including 57 Canadians. None survived.

After denying for days the plane was downed by a missile, Iran finally confessed, blaming human error. “We all are grieving for those Canadians that we lost in that night,” the Brigadier-General said.

Despite political pressures in Iraq to expel the U.S. military in response to Soleimani’s killing, St-Louis said the Iraqis he deals with want the Canadians to carry on their mission.

“I think it’s important because the Iraqis continue to signify, at least at the military level to us, that they want us here,” he said.

When they could resume remains unclear.

“We’re closely coordinating with our allies in the coalition. We are in constant contact with the Iraqi security force to see what their read of the situation is. We constantly reassess the threat,” he said.

“And we are taking it one day at a time.”

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Canada Premiers to hold virtual news conference on struggling children’s hospitals

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Canada’s premiers plan to hold a news conference in Winnipeg today as children’s hospitals struggle to deal with a wave of child illnesses.

Hospitals across the country have been cancelling some surgeries and appointments as they redirect staff amid an increase in pediatric patients.

Admissions are surging under a triple-threat of respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and COVID-19 at a time when the health-care system is grappling with record numbers of job vacancies.

In Ottawa, two teams of Canadian Red Cross personnel are working rotating overnight shifts at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in support of its clinical-care team, while some patients have been redirected to adult health-care facilities.

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A pediatric hospice in Calgary has been temporarily closed as staff are diverted to a children’s hospital.

Members of the Alberta Medical Association have sent a letter to the province’s acting chief medical officer of health calling for stronger public health measures to prevent the spread of the illnesses, including increasing public messaging about the safety of vaccines, encouraging flu and COVID-19 vaccines, and temporarily requiring masks in schools.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.

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As nature talks unfold, here’s what ’30 by 30′ conservation could mean in Canada

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was unequivocal Wednesday when asked if Canada was going to meet its goal to protect one-quarter of all Canadian land and oceans by 2025.

“I am happy to say that we are going to meet our ’25 by 25′ target,” Trudeau said during a small roundtable interview with journalists on the sidelines of the nature talks taking place in Montreal.

That goal, which would already mean protecting 1.2 million more square kilometres of land, is just the interim stop on the way to conserving 30 per cent by 2030 — the marquee target Canada is pushing for during the COP15 biodiversity conference.

But what does the conservation of land or waterways actually mean?

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“When we talk about protecting land and water, we’re talking about looking at a whole package of actions across broader landscapes,” said Carole Saint-Laurent, head of forest and lands at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The group’s definition of “protected area,” which is used by the UN convention on biodiversity, refers to a “clearly defined geographical space” that is managed by laws or regulations with the goal of the long-term protection of nature.

“It can range from areas with very strict protections to areas that are being protected or conserved,” said Saint-Laurent.

“We have to look at that entire suite of protective and restorative action in order to not only save nature, but to do so in a way that is going to help our societies. There is not one magical formula, and context is everything.”

The organization, which keeps its own global “green list” of conserved areas, lists 17 criteria for how areas can fit the definition.

Most of the criteria are centred on how the sites are managed and protected. One allows for resource extraction, hunting, recreation and tourism as long as these are both compatible with and supportive of the conservation goals outlined for the area.

In many cases, industrial activities and resource extraction are not allowed in protected areas. But that’s not always true in Canada, particularly when it involves the rights of Indigenous Peoples on their traditional territory.

In some provincial parks, mining and logging are allowed. In Ontario’s Algonquin Park, for example, logging is permitted in about two-thirds of the park area.

Canada has nearly 10 million square kilometres of terrestrial land, including inland freshwater lakes and rivers, and about 5.8 million square kilometres of marine territory.

As of December 2021, Canada had conserved 13.5 per cent of land and almost 14 per cent of marine territory. The government did it through a combination of national and provincial parks and reserves, wildlife areas, migratory bird sanctuaries, national marine conservation areas, marine protected areas and what are referred to as “other effective areas-based conservation measures.”

These can include private lands that have a management plan to protect and conserve habitats, or public or private lands where conservation isn’t the primary focus but still ends up happening.

Canadian Forces Base Shilo, in Manitoba, includes about 211 square kilometres of natural habitats maintained under an environmental protection plan run by the Department of National Defence.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a non-profit organization that raises funds to buy plots of land from private owners with a view to long-term conservation.

Mike Hendren, its Ontario regional vice-president, said that on such lands, management plans can include everything from nature trails to hunting — but always with conservation as the priority.

To hit “25 by 25,” Canada must further protect more than 1.2 million square kilometres of land, or approximately the size of Manitoba and Saskatchewan added together. To get to 30 per cent is to add, on top of that, land almost equivalent in size to Alberta.

The federal government would need to protect another 638,000 square kilometres of marine territory and coastlines by 2025, or an area almost three times the size of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. By 2030, another area the size of the gulf would need to be added.

Trudeau said that in a country as big and diverse as Canada, hard and fast rules about what can and can’t happen in protected areas don’t make sense.

He said there should be distinctions between areas that can’t have any activity and places where you can mine, log or hunt, as long as it is done with conservation in mind.

“There’s ability to have sort of management plans that are informed by everyone, informed by science, informed by various communities, that say, ‘yes, we’re going to protect this area and that means, no, there’s not going to be unlimited irresponsible mining going to happen,'” he said.

“But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain projects in certain places that could be the right kind of thing, or the right thing to move forward on.”

The draft text of the biodiversity framework being negotiated at COP15 is not yet clear on what kind of land and marine areas would qualify or what conservation of them would specifically mean.

It currently proposes that a substantial portion of the conserved land would need to be “strictly protected” but some areas could respect the right to economic development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.

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UN Mideast refugee chief says Western funding shortfall may abandon hosting countries

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The United Nations refugee chief for the Middle East says countries hosting asylum seekers need more funding, or they’ll feel abandoned by the global community.

Ayman Gharaibeh (ay-MAHN guh-RYE-bah) says countries are pulling back their funding to help places like Lebanon and Jordan host refugees from Syria, and the lack of funds could prevent kids from being educated.

Gharaibeh says Canada is one of the few countries that isn’t pulling back funding, and he hopes Ottawa will encourage its allies to stop lowering their support.

He says the U-N is already struggling to support refugees due to inflation, a drop in donors and new conflicts that have displaced people from Ukraine and Ethiopia.

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Meanwhile, his region has only received eight per cent of the funding it has requested for winter gear, such as fuel and children’s clothing — compared to fifty-eight per cent by this time last year.

Gharaibeh says countries that are left to fend with these costs might stop co-operating in international agreements, which could cause more chaos in refugee flows.

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