Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will visit Kuwait on Monday, where he will meet with Canadian Forces members involved in both of Canada’s missions in Iraq.
The visit was planned some time in advance, but not announced until now because of security concerns, as is often the case with diplomatic trips to the Middle East.
The Ali al-Salem Air Base, located about 25 kilometres west of Kuwait City, has long been a base of operations for both Canadian and U.S. forces flying air missions over Iraq and Syria. The Canadian Forces members there are part of Operation Impact — Canada’s contribution to the international coalition formed to defeat ISIS.
Two Canadian C-130 Hercules aircraft are stationed at the base, although recently only one has been flying missions over Iraq, while the other has been flying missions in Africa.
Their ranks have been swollen by Canadian troops assigned to the NATO training mission in Iraq. Those soldiers had been working in Baghdad and at two bases in the northern and southern outskirts of the Iraqi capital. The NATO training mission has been commanded consecutively by two Canadians. The current head is Gen. Jennie Carignan.
Following the American drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani last month, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance sent a letter to military families to inform them that Canada would be temporarily moving some of its forces to Kuwait. They were considered more exposed than the Canadian Forces working to defeat ISIS in northern Iraq.
Baghdad was the scene of severe rioting following the killing, with some of it aimed at the foreign presence in the city, and was also the home base of powerful Shia militias allied with Iran. Those militias reacted with anger and threats to the killing of Gen. Soleimani, and some responded by firing rockets into Baghdad’s Green Zone.
Iraq’s parliament has passed a resolution calling on all foreign troops to leave the country, although Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi did not appear keen to put it into effect.
Earlier this month he was effectively forced to resign, and has now been replaced by Mohammed Allawi, a cousin of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Allawi has yet to nominate a cabinet and Iraq remains in a state of disorder, with the future of the two Canadian missions in the country in doubt.
Trudeau is expected to remain Kuwait for less than 24 hours before continuing his African tour with a visit to Senegal, aimed at shoring up support for Canada’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2021-22. He will also meet with the Prime Minister of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah, a member of the ruling royal dynasty.