Canada is calling for political dialogue in Iraq as Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi announced his resignation on Friday following weeks of deadly anti-establishment unrest.
The resignation, which came a day after more than 40 people were killed by security forces and following calls by Iraq’s top Shiite cleric for lawmakers to withdraw support, was the latest twist in an unprecedented crisis for war-weary Iraq.
“Canada strongly condemns the escalating violence in Iraq, which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of protesters and injured thousands more,” Global Affairs Canada said in a statement. “We urge all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violence.”
Biggest unrest in years
Young, unemployed and unarmed protesters have led calls for a rehaul of Iraq’s political system they say is endemically corrupt and serves foreign powers, especially Baghdad’s ally Tehran.
The people of Iraq deserve stability, prosperity and security, and their human and democratic rights—including the right to protest and freedom of expression—must be protected, Canadian officials said.
“Canada encourages a dialogue to advance political and economic reforms and ensure a better future for all Iraqis,” the statement said.
Abdul-Mahdi was appointed prime minister just over a year ago as a consensus candidate between political blocs.
His departure could be a blow for Iranian influence after Iran’s militia allies and its own commanders intervened last month to keep the premier in place despite mass anti-government unrest.
Iraq’s biggest unrest for years pits protesters from Shi’ite heartlands in Baghdad and the south against a corrupt Shi’ite-dominated ruling elite seen as pawns of Iran.
Iraq’s current political class is drawn mainly from powerful Shi’ite politicians, clerics and paramilitary leaders including many who lived in exile before a U.S.-led invasion overthrew Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 – including Abdul Mahdi.
Canadian boots on the ground
Royal Canadian Navy Lt. Jeff Lura, spokesperson for the Canadian Joint Operations Command, said the unrest has not affected Canadian operations in Iraq.
“There hasn’t been a significant change to our activities in Iraq and Lebanon under that mission,” Lura told Radio Canada International. “Of course, safety is a priority and we keep that in mind all the time. We have various contingency plans based on the situation.”
Canada has up 850 military personnel deployed in Iraq under Operation IMPACT.
Canada currently leads the NATO Mission in Iraq. On Tuesday, Maj.-Gen. Jennie Carignan officially assumed command of the mission from Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin at a Transfer of Authority Ceremony held at the Forward Operating Base Union III in Baghdad.
The NMI is a non-combat training and capacity-building mission aimed at building up Iraqi national forces to prevent the re-emergence of groups such as ISIS or al-Qaeda.
The trainers focus on educating Iraqi military instructors, who in turn train their own forces in bomb disposal, armoured vehicle maintenance, civilian-military planning and medical care.
The alliance also advises the Iraqi defence ministry on institutional reform.
Canada maintains a separate contingent of special forces troops in northern Iraq, who advise and assist local security forces in counter-terrorism operations against pockets of Islamic State extremists. While they’ve been defeated on the battlefield, Islamic State is still conducting a guerrilla-style campaign of terror and hit-and-run attacks.
In March, the federal government announced that Canada is extending Operation IMPACT until the end of March 2021. In June, Ottawa extended Canada’s command of NATO Mission Iraq until November 2020.
With files from Reuters and The Associated Press