OTTAWA — With a military victory over the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in sight, Canada and its allies are turning their attention to what comes next — keeping Iraq together and stopping the spread of terror.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan were in Washington on Wednesday, where they and representatives from dozens of other countries heard that the fight against ISIL was going better than expected. A second day of meetings is scheduled for Thursday.
Harjit Sajjan walks past an honor guard as he arrives to attend a meeting of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, July 20. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. officials said the militant group's forces had squeezed into the Iraqi city of Mosul and its Syrian stronghold, Raqqa. Preparations are currently underway to liberate Mosul, and while the effort isn't expected to be easy, success would eliminate the last real vestige of ISIL presence in Iraq.
Sajjan, who said Canada will deploy up to 60 military personnel to a hospital in northern Iraq, wouldn't say how long he expects the fighting to last. But he did describe the pending battles for Mosul and Raqqa as the "final push" in the military campaign.
"We also need to keep in mind that even though Daesh will be defeated in that region, we want to make sure that the next step is also looked at,'' he said, using another name for ISIL. "That we look at the political situation. That we have political stability."
"As we look at defeating Daesh right now, we need to make sure the political stability is there so that we can help Iraq build a positive future so that a problem like this is not created again."
Religious and ethnic divisions are not new to Iraq, but they did contribute to ISIL's rise as many Sunni Muslims grew angry at how the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad was treating them. Growing Kurdish aspirations for independence in the north have only made matters worse.
"As we look at defeating Daesh right now," Sajjan said, "we need to make sure the political stability is there so that we can help Iraq build a positive future so that a problem like this is not created again."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized the same message following a meeting in which the international community pledged more than $2 billion in immediate aid and long-term assistance for Iraq. Canada promised up to $200 million in loans through the World Bank for economic reforms.
"Coming together as we are here is really an effort to support the aspirations and the hopes of the Iraqi people and, unequivocally, to also address the security concerns in each and every one of our countries," Kerry said. "If we do not succeed in Iraq, none of our countries will be safer."
Canadian Minister of National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan listens as Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion responds to a question during an interview, July 9. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Yet underscoring the divisions in Iraq, a top Kurdish official complained Wednesday on Twitter about the "travesty" of Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq not being invited to the anti-ISIL meeting despite its role in fighting the militant group.
The other challenge is halting the spread of terrorism and radical ideology. Speaking to The Canadian Press, Dion said wiping out ISIL's so-called caliphate will help eliminate much of the group's legitimacy and drawing power.
"But you have what we may call an ideology for people who think they will go to heaven if they kill people who don't share their beliefs," he said. "And this ideology is something we need to fight, with different tools though."
Dion emphasized improved intelligence and police services, as well as de-radicalization efforts as key for fighting back against what he described as an ideology that is "conquering minds."
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