Politics

NATO suspends Canadian-led Iraq training mission after Soleimani killing

NATO has suspended Canadian-led training of Iraqi security and armed forces to ensure the safety of several hundred mission members after a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad killed a top Iranian general, an alliance spokesman said on Saturday.

Canadian general is leading the NATO mission, 500 Canadian military personnel in Iraq

Commander of Iran's Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad this week. NATO has suspended its training mission to Iraq to protect personnel in the multi-country effort. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/Associated Press)

NATO has suspended Canadian-led training of Iraqi security and armed forces to ensure the safety of several hundred mission members after a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad killed a top Iranian general, an alliance spokesman said on Saturday.

"The safety of our personnel in Iraq is paramount," acting NATO spokesman Dylan White said in a statement. "We continue to take all precautions necessary. NATO's mission is continuing, but training activities are temporarily suspended."

He said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had spoken by phone with U.S. Secretary of Defence Mark Esper since Friday's attack that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad airport.

NATO was monitoring the situation in the region very closely, he added, amid mounting concern that the killing of Iran's second-most powerful man could trigger a conflagration in the Middle East.

The "safety and security" of Canadian troops in Iraq is top of mind, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said in a statement to CBC News, adding that Canada is monitoring the security environment and "taking all necessary precautions." 

When asked if military personnel would be withdrawn, the minister wrote that the mandates of the NATO mission and Operation IMPACT — Canada's anti-ISIS mission — of establishing stability in the region "remain the same" in the wake of Soleimani's death.  

He confirmed all training by Canadian military personnel has been temporarily suspended.

NATO Mission Iraq (NMI), which includes up to several hundred trainers, advisers and support staff from alliance countries and non-NATO partner countries, includes military and civilian personnel. Canadian Major-General Jennie Carignan is the current commander of the mission. 

Established in Baghdad in October 2018 after three years of war against Islamic State, NMI is a 'train-and-advise' mission to help Iraqi security structures and institutions fend off future insurgencies. 

Canadian Maj-Gen. Jennie Carignan, right, took over command of the NATO mission in Iraq on Nov. 26. (NATO)

Canada has a significant presence in Iraq, both as part of the anti-ISIS Operation Impact and as the nation leading the NATO efforts on the ground.

A source at National Defence HQ told CBC News there are probably about 500 Canadian military personnel in the country, which accounts for most of the Canadians now in Iraq in an official capacity.

Germany also concerned

Separately, the German military said in a letter seen by Reuters on Friday that the United States and its allies had suspended training of Iraqi forces due to the increased threat they face after Friday's strike on Soleimani.

In the letter to German lawmakers, a senior German officer said U.S. Lieutenant General Pat White had decided to further increase the level of protection for forces deployed in Iraq under the Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), which he commands.

Germany has deployed around 120 troops to that mission.

With files from CBC News

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