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Trudeau government deepens ties to repressive Kuwaiti monarchy

Canadian PoliticsMiddle East

Canadian Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan meets with Prime Minister of Kuwait, Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah, December 2019.

As parents often warn their children, real friends do not encourage stupid, embarrassing, or life-threatening behaviour.

Unfortunately, this aphorism rarely applies to Canada’s foreign policy.

Because of our “friend” to the south, the Trudeau government has actively deepened Canada’s ties to a repressive and authoritarian 250-year-old monarchy in Kuwait, while pursuing other questionable policies in lockstep with American imperialism.

After participating in the recent African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Trudeau jetted off to meet the Emir of Kuwait, who has been an integral ally of the Saudi Arabian-led bombing of Yemen. The prime minister’s visit marked the most high-profile step in a bevy of diplomatic activity with a government that has made questioning the Emir or Islam punishable by a significant prison sentence.

During their meeting, notes the federal government’s official press release, Trudeau “welcomed the long-standing friendship between Canada and Kuwait and thanked the Government of Kuwait for its support of our CAF [Canadian Armed Forces] personnel stationed in Kuwait as part of Operation IMPACT.” The two leaders also discussed recent developments in the region and agreed on the importance of “working towards long term stability and security.”

Before the PM’s visit defence minister Harjit Sajjan had twice traveled to Kuwait City since December 19. In April, Sajjan also met Prime Minister and Defence Minister Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah “to bolster and consolidate bilateral ties.” Three months earlier Governor General Julie Payette visited the Emir in Kuwait City. In November Payette sent a cable to the Emir to wish him well after an illness and the next month Assistant Deputy Minister of Global Affairs Peter McDougall met a Kuwaiti counterpart “to strengthen bilateral relations.” In August 2018 the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding designed to establish regular consultations between senior officials.

At the Munich Security Conference last week foreign minister François-Philippe Champagne met his Kuwaiti counterpart Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah. At an event in the Canadian Embassy on Monday Kuwait’s deputy foreign minister Khaled Al-Jarallah described the “distinguished … ties between the two countries” and “continuous communication and common interests.” On Thursday Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence Lawrence MacAulay attended a celebration at Kuwait’s Embassy in Ottawa for Canadians who fought in the 1991 Iraq war.

The inaugural Kuwait and Canada Investment Forum took place in April. Finance minister Bill Morneau and parliamentary secretary Omar Alghabra participated. At the time Alghabra wrote, “let’s celebrate and continue our efforts to grow the relationship between Canada and Kuwait in investments, trade and defence.”

So, why the budding romance?

Relations with Kuwait are important to Ottawa because of the Canadian Forces base there. About 300 Canadians are stationed in Kuwait to support the Canadian special forces deployed to Iraq as well as two intelligence and one Canadian air-to-air refuelling aircraft. Alongside 200 highly skilled special forces, there is a Canadian tactical helicopter detachment, intelligence officers and a combat hospital in Iraq. Despite being labeled a “training” mission, Canadians called in US airstrikes provide up-to-date battle intelligence and repeatedly engage the enemy. A Canadian even killed someone with a record-breaking 3.5-kilometre sniper shot. Canadian special forces also supported a multi-month battle to dislodge ISIS from Mosul that left thousands of civilians dead in 2017.

Alongside the special forces and air support operations, Canada assumed command of the NATO Mission Iraq (NMI), in November 2018. A Canadian commands 580 NATO troops, including 250 Canadians. They train instructors at three military schools and advise Iraq’s defence ministry.

The Liberals failed to properly explain why Canada took on a second mission in Iraq, although it was likely tied to weakening the influence of the Iranian aligned Popular Mobilization Forces, Shia militias that helped defeat ISIS. According to Scott Taylor, “Canada agreed to take command of the NATO-led training mission in Iraq because the Liberal government knew it could not sell the Canadian public on sending troops back into the war in Afghanistan. That is where the NATO leaders wanted Canadians, which seems an incredibly ironic twist in that we originally agreed to go into Afghanistan because it was not Iraq.”

Trudeau and Sajjan’s recent missions to Kuwait are part of the fallout from Washington’s decision to assassinate Iranian general Qassim Suleimani and Iraqi Shia militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. After the January 3 killings some Canadian forces in Iraq were withdrawn to the base in Kuwait. Iraq’s parliament passed a resolution demanding foreign soldiers leave the country and Iran threatened to retaliate against US troops in the region.

The flurry of recent diplomatic activity is likely designed to reassure Kuwaiti officials of Canada’s backing and to ensure Kuwait does not back out of the base arrangement. In effect, the Trudeau government has agreeingly deepened ties to a repressive and authoritarian monarchy to support US policy in Iraq.

To maintain foreign troops in Iraq the Trudeau government has also pushed back against the Iraqi parliament’s call for foreign troops to leave. After the country’s parliament passed a resolution calling for foreign troops to go, defence minister Harjit Sajjan sought to convince his Iraqi counterpart of the importance of Canada’s presence. Last week Sajjan celebrated the willingness of Iraqi leaders to keep Canadian troops in their country. Additionally, Middle East Eye reported on Iraqi and US military officials holding a secret meeting “in the private residence of the Canadian ambassador to Jordan in Amman” to discuss pulling back US troops from Iraq.

This makes one wonder: What else might the Trudeau government do to support US policy in Iraq and the broader Middle East?

Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.

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