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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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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Wednesday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, and said Americans can choose a shot that is different than their original inoculation.

The decision paves the way for millions more people in the United States to get the additional protection with the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus causing breakthrough infections among some who are fully vaccinated.

The agency previously authorized boosters of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least six months after the first round of shots to increase protection for people aged 65 and older, those at risk of severe disease and those who are exposed to the virus through their work.

Last week, an advisory panel to the FDA voted to recommend a third round of shots of the Moderna vaccine for the same groups.

WATCH | U.S. will now accept Canadian travellers with mixed doses: 

U.S. will now accept Canadian travellers with mixed COVID-19 vaccine doses

5 days ago

The United States has confirmed that Canadians that had different COVID-19 vaccines for their first and second dose will be recognized as fully vaccinated. The U.S. will be implementing travel restrictions on Nov. 8, only permitting fully vaccinated travellers into the country. 2:09

The panel also recommended a second shot of the J&J vaccine for all recipients of the one-dose inoculation at least two months after receiving their first.

The FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were under some pressure to authorize the additional shots after the White House announced plans in August for a widespread booster campaign.

The advisory panel meeting included a presentation of data on mixing vaccines from a U.S. National Institutes of Health study in which 458 participants received some combination of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and J&J shots.

The data showed that people who initially got J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine had a stronger immune response when boosted with either the Pfizer or Moderna shot, and that “mixing and matching” booster shots of different types was safe in adults.

Many countries including Canada and the U.K. have backed mix-and-match strategies for the widely-used AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which is not authorized in the United States but is based on similar viral vector technology as J&J’s vaccine.

WATCH | Booster shots not yet needed for most, says specialist: 

COVID-19 booster shots not needed for most people yet, says specialist

14 days ago

Canadians who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 might see longer immunity if their shots were spaced further apart than recommended by the vaccine makers, says Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious diseases specialist in Montreal who said most people don’t need booster shots at this time. (Evan Mitsui/CBC) 4:51

Reuters reported in June that infectious disease experts were weighing the need for booster shots of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine after the J&J shot.

A CDC advisory committee on Thursday will make its recommendations about which groups of people should get the Moderna and J&J boosters, which the agency’s director will use to inform her final decision.

About 11.2 million people have so far received a booster dose, according to data from the CDC.


What’s happening in Canada

WATCH | Vaccines for kids could face hurdles after approval: 

COVID-19 vaccines for kids could face hurdles after approval

23 hours ago

Health Canada is reviewing data for the first COVID-19 vaccine for younger children, but even if it’s approved, the hurdles could include vaccine supply, distribution and getting some parents on board. 3:38

  • Pandemic restriction opponents line up behind Manitoba PC leadership hopeful.
  • Some unvaccinated municipal workers in northeastern Ontario sent home.
  • N.L. sees 9 cases as officials make tweaks to fix vaccine passport issues.

What’s happening around the world

As of Wednesday, more than 241.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, according to the latest figures posted by Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.9 million, according to the U.S-based university’s coronavirus tracker.

In Europe, Russia will shut workplaces for a week, Latvia went back into lockdown for a month and Romanian funeral homes are running out of coffins, as vaccine-skeptic ex-communist countries face record highs of infections and deaths.

In Africa, Kenya lifted a nationwide curfew on Wednesday that has been in place since March 2020 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

In the Americas, 41 per cent of people across Latin America and the Caribbean have now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Pan American Health Organization said.

In Asia, China reported a fourth day of new, locally transmitted cases in a handful of cities across the country, spurring local governments to double down on efforts to track potential carriers amid the zero-tolerance policy.

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N.Korea says U.S. overreacting over submarine missile test

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North Korea said on Thursday the United States was overreacting to its recent missile test and questioned the sincerity of Washington’s offers of talks, warning of consequences.

This week’s test of a new ballistic missile from a submarine was part of North Korea’s mid- and long-term plan to bolster self defense and was and not aimed at the United States or any other country, an unnamed spokesperson at Pyongyang’s foreign ministry said, according to the official KCNA news agency.

Washington had taken “overly provocative moves” by calling the test a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and a threat to regional peace and stability, the spokesperson said.

The Security Council met on Wednesday over the launch at the request of the United States and Britain, and the U.S. envoy urged Pyongyang to accept offers of talks, reiterating that Washington has no hostile intent toward it.

The foreign ministry spokesperson said the United States’ “double standards” over missile development cast doubt over its overtures.

“It is a clear double standard that the United States denounces us for developing and testing the same weapons system it already has or was developing, and that only adds suspicions to their sincerity after saying they have no hostility towards us,” the spokesperson said in a statement carried by KCNA.

The United States and the council could face “more grave and serious consequences” if they opted for wrong behaviour, the spokesperson said, warning against “fiddling with a time bomb.”

 

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; editing by Richard Pullin)

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Britain in talks to sell missiles in arms deal with Ukraine -The Times

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The UK government is in talks with Ukraine to sell it missiles for the first time in an arms deal, the Times reported on Wednesday.

Under the plans, the Ministry of Defence would provide surface-to surface and air-to-surface missiles to Ukraine, the newspaper added.

 

(Reporting by Nishit Jogi in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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