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U.S. denies it plans to withdraw from Iraq

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Canada’s defence minister insisted today the military mission in the Middle East will stay the course following hours of international confusion triggered by a leaked letter which suggested Washington was prepared to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Media reports about the letter from a senior Marine Corps brigadier general, led by the Reuters news agency, said the pullout would happen over the next few days “in deference to the sovereignty of the Republic of Iraq” — and would be conducted in response to the Iraqi parliament passing a resolution over the weekend calling for the departure of all foreign forces.

But according to Reuters, U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later told a group of reporters that the letter — obtained by media outlets Monday — was a draft meant only to inform the Iraqi government of increased U.S. troop movement and no withdrawal is being planned.

“Poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That’s not what’s happening,” Milley said.

 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, listens as Secretary of Defense Mark Esper delivers a statement on Iraq and Syria Dec. 29, 2019. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

 

The letter said the repositioning was taking place “to prepare for onward movement” but did not specify where that movement might take place.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper also insisted that the U.S. has no plans to pull out of Iraq.

“There’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq,” Esper told Pentagon reporters on Monday, adding there also have been no plans issued to prepare to leave.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, speaking with CBC’s Power & Politics, also dismissed the reports of an American withdrawal and said he received no indication of such a move when he spoke with Esper on Friday, prior to the Iraqi parliamentary motion.

“We know the current situation is far more complicated, and we have to respect their process, but it is more complicated than just one vote,” Sajjan told Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos. “So we will go through the number of days, and potentially weeks, to see where the situation lands.”

The region has been on edge and anticipating military action since a drone strike ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on Friday. Sajjan said increased force protection has been ordered for Canadian troops in Iraq and non-essential personnel have been relocated out of the country. He did not elaborate, citing security concerns.

 

 

Canada has a contingent of elite special forces soldiers, intelligence officers and helicopters in Iraq supporting the U.S.-led coalition mission to hunt down the remnants of the Islamic State. They’re located in the northern Kurdish city of Erbil — and presumably would be covered by any order to withdraw.

The notion of an American withdrawal appeared at odds with the hopeful noises NATO’s secretary general was making about the future of the alliance’s separate military training mission in Baghdad.

In Brussels on Monday, Jens Stoltenberg suggested the mission was going to remain in place and hopefully resume operations as soon as possible.

The work of the mission’s roughly 500 multinational soldiers, who are training Iraqi Army trainers in various military skills, was halted following the attack that killed Soleimani.

Iraq’s parliament voted over the weekend in favour of a non-binding resolution calling on the government to expel foreign troops from the country.

Stoltenberg said that while the safety of the alliance’s troops is paramount, they’re ready to get back to work.

“We have suspended our training mission now because of the security situation on the ground, but we are ready to restart the training when the situation on the ground makes that possible,” Stoltenberg said at NATO headquarters following a briefing for the military alliance’s ambassadors. “We are in close contact with the Iraqi authorities, with [the] Iraqi government.”

 

U.S. President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wait to take their seats prior to a NATO leaders meeting at The Grove hotel and resort in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, Dec. 4, 2019. (Frank Augstein/The Associated Press)

 

His comments suggest there’s some hope still that the training mission — which is separate from the U.S.-led coalition that has been hunting the remnants of the Islamic State in the region — will be permitted to continue because of the value the Iraqi government has placed on it in the past.

“The Iraqi prime minister stressed the importance of NATO support, coalition support to the Iraqi security forces,” Stoltenberg said, referring to a recent meeting with the Iraqi leadership prior to Soleimani’s death.

“It’s important for Iraq, but it is also important for us, because when we train them, help them in fighting ISIS and international terrorism, we’re making our own countries safe and secure.”

Stoltenberg said he expects “to have close dialogue with the Iraqi government” over the coming days.

Canada has about 500 troops in Iraq. About half of them provide support to the NATO training mission, while other half — mostly based in Erbil — are involved in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.

Sajjan said Canada wants to see both missions continue.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that he met with both Sajjan and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance Monday morning, but did not address the future of the Canadian missions.

“The safety of Canadians in the region is our top priority,” Trudeau said. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely and encourage de-escalation.”

A ‘de-escalation of tensions’

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne spoke Monday with his Iraqi counterpart, Mohammed Ali al-Hakim, according to a statement from Global Affairs Canada.

“The minister reiterated Canada’s ongoing commitment to a stable and united Iraq and to ensuring the enduring defeat of Daesh,” said the statement, using a common Arabic word for ISIS. “The two ministers agreed that a de-escalation in tensions is necessary as peace and stability are key to pursuing the political and economic reforms underway in Iraq.”

The message of de-escalation was echoed by Stoltenberg, who said American military and diplomatic officials contacted other NATO members to explain the rationale for killing Soleimani.

He ducked questions about whether the alliance supports the U.S. action and pointed out how Iran has long played a spoiler role in the Middle East.

“What was clearly expressed at the meeting today was a call for restraint and de-escalation,” he said. “All allies have several times expressed their concerns about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the regions, including Iran’s support for different terrorist groups.

“And of course, all allies agree that Iran should never be able to develop nuclear weapons and we have also expressed again and again our concerns about Iran’s missile programme, missiles which are able to reach also many European allied countries.”

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Senegalese diplomat arrested by Quebec police owed former landlord more than $45,000

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MONTREAL — The detention and alleged beating of a Senegalese diplomat by Quebec police last week occurred while a bailiff was attempting to seize property at her residence in connection with a court judgment against her.

Quebec’s rental board in June ordered Oumou Kalsoum Sall to pay a former landlord more than $45,000 for damage to a furnished home she occupied from Nov. 1, 2018, to Oct. 31, 2020. The tribunal found that she caused flooding that led to structural damage and that her use of the property forced its owner, Michel Lemay, to replace most of his furniture.

“The pictures speak for themselves,” Anne A. Laverdure, an administrative judge, wrote in her ruling. “The furniture is full of cockroaches. Pieces of furniture are scratched and scuffed. Some are missing. Everything is dirty.”

Laverdure awarded Lemay almost $13,500 for structural damage to the home and $23,000 to replace furniture. The administrative judge awarded Lemay another several thousand dollars for other damages.

Court records show that the debt was not paid and that a bailiff went to Kalsoum Sall’s residence in Gatineau, Que., across the river from Ottawa, on Aug. 2 to seize property in connection with the debt.

Kalsoum Sall is a first counsellor at the embassy of the Republic of Senegal in Ottawa, according to a federal government database of foreign delegations. The Senegalese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has claimed that the diplomat had to be hospitalized after being handcuffed and beaten by police.

Quebec’s independent police watchdog said Monday it opened an investigation into the incident. Gatineau police have said that they were called to the residence to assist a bailiff and that they arrested a woman with diplomatic status after she allegedly hit a police officer in the face, adding that she was tackled to the ground after allegedly biting another officer.

Global Affairs Canada has described the incident as “unacceptable,” adding that the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations — which Canada has signed — gives diplomats immunity from any form of detention or arrest.

Gilles Rivard, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and to Haiti, said that while he doesn’t know exactly what happened during the Aug. 2 incident, some diplomats can be aggressive because they believe there will be no consequences for their actions.

“They can be aggressive because they know that they have immunity, so they believe that they can do whatever they want,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

While police are not officially supposed to arrest a diplomat, Rivard said, it’s possible a police officer might handcuff an individual while they wait to confirm the person’s diplomatic status.

“But if after that, that person shows that she is a diplomat, or he is a diplomat, normally they have to be released,” he said.

In 2001, a Russian diplomat struck and killed a woman while driving in Ottawa. The Canadian government asked Russia to waive the diplomat’s immunity so he could be charged in Canada, but Russia refused, Rivard said, adding that Canada’s only option in that case was to expel the diplomat.

Rivard said he doesn’t think the Aug. 2 incident is serious enough to damage Canada’s very good relationship with Senegal.

The Senegalese Embassy in Ottawa did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Tuesday afternoon. A call to the embassy was not answered.

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

 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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Alberta awards prize to essay that argues women should pick babies over careers

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EDMONTON — Alberta has awarded a prize to an essayist who argues the sexes are not equal and that women should pick babies over careers to avoid the province having to import more foreigners and risk “cultural suicide.”

The United Conservative government removed the essay from its legislature website Tuesday following an outcry of condemnation.

Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk — Alberta’s associate minister for the Status of Women and also the contest organizer and one of the judges — also distanced herself from the entire affair.

“The essay contest was intended to reflect a broad range of opinions from young Alberta women on what democracy means for them,” Armstrong-Homeniuk said in a statement.

“While the essay in question certainly does not represent the views of all women, myself included, the essay in question should not have been chosen.”

Armstrong-Homeniuk was not made available for an interview.

Her office declined to say who else sat on the judging committee and how and why the essay was chosen.

The contest advertised that essays would be judged by Armstrong-Homeniuk and other legislature members but did not specify names.

Armstrong-Homeniuk was appointed to the cabinet post in June but has been the face of the contest since it was introduced in February.

The “Her Vision Inspires” contest challenged women ages 17 to 25 to describe their ideas for a better Alberta.

The top two essays suggest ways to get more women, and the public in general, involved in public life.

The third-place winner — identified only as S. Silver — won a $200 prize to be spent at the legislature gift shop.

Silver’s essay posits that the governing mission of humanity is to reproduce itself, but that Alberta has lost its way to instead pursue “selfish and hedonistic goals.”

The solution, she argues, is to acknowledge that “women are not exactly equal to men.”

Society, she writes, should celebrate and embrace the birthing role of women and stop pushing them to put off prime procreation years while they “break into careers that men traditionally dominate.”

She says the idea that Alberta can put off procreation and instead “import foreigners to replace ourselves … is a sickly mentality that amounts to a drive for cultural suicide.”

Opposition NDP critic Rakhi Pancholi said Armstrong-Homeniuk owes the public a full explanation of how this view was not condemned but honoured and rewarded.

“Sexism, racism, hate — this is not what any government should be celebrating, yet increasingly these views are becoming acceptable in this UCP government, and even now applauded,” Pancholi told reporters.

Pancholi zeroed in on the “cultural suicide” reference, likening it to 1930s Nazi Germany urging women to be baby vessels to propagate the Aryan race.

“This is an absolutely reprehensible claim. It is a nod to the racist replacement theory that drives white nationalist hate,” she said.

The contest was run through the legislative assembly office, which is headed up by Speaker Nathan Cooper.

Cooper’s office, in a statement, said the contest was conceived and administered by Armstrong-Homeniuk in her role as regional chair of the Commonwealth Women’s Parliamentarians group.

“Neither the Speaker’s office nor the legislative assembly office were involved with the selection of the essays in any capacity, including who was on the MLA panel judging the contest,” said the statement.

“As soon as the content of the third-place winner was brought to the Speaker’s attention, he immediately made the decision for the content to be removed.

“The content is abhorrent and does not reflect the views of the Speaker or the legislative assembly office.”

Three candidates in the race to replace Premier Jason Kenney as party leader and premier also took to Twitter to criticize the award.

“It’s a disgrace that an essay saying women are not equal to men won an award sponsored by government. Women, and their contributions, are equally valuable and amazing whether we are moms or not. Can’t believe this needs to be said,” wrote Rebecca Schulz.

Rajan Sawhney followed up, writing, “Agree, Rebecca. Same goes for the comments about ‘foreigners.’ Alberta is the proud home of people from all over the world — from Ukraine, to the Philippines, and everywhere in between.”

Leela Aheer said, “Well, I read 1st and 2nd place (essays). Those were great! I’m not sure how the 3rd essay elevates women.”

Lise Gotell, a women’s and gender studies professor at the University of Alberta, said the essay perpetuates an essentialist, sexist and racist point of view stemming from the long discredited and outdated concept that a women’s role is to reproduce as a bulwark against immigration.

“The fact that it was chosen says a great deal about the views on appropriate gender roles being advanced by this government,” said Gotell in an interview.

“This essay reads like something that quite frankly could’ve been written in the 19th century.”

—  With files from Angela Amato in Edmonton

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

 

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Two miners trapped in Dominican Republic rescued with help from Canada

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OTTAWA — Defence Minister Anita Anand says two miners who were trapped in an underground mine for 10 days in the Dominican Republic have been rescued with the help of Canada.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Anand said the Royal Canadian Air Force transported mining equipment to Santo Domingo following a request for assistance from the Dominican government.

Two miners with the Dominican Mining Corporation, known as Cormidom, had been trapped since July 31 in an underground mine.

According to a news release from the Dominican Republic Embassy on Saturday, Canada was expected to send over a mining excavation system made up of machines, tools and various rescue technologies.

The statement says the equipment was provided by Machines Roger International, a mining company based in Val-d’Or, Que.

Anand thanked the Royal Canadian Air Force personnel involved in the mission who arrived in the Dominican Republic on Sunday.

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

 

The Canadian Press

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