03/06/2013 05:19 EST | Updated 05/06/2013 05:12 EDT

Jason Kenney Reveals Details Of Surprise Visit To Iraq


OTTAWA - Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's days are usually packed with public events, but he had a surprise item on the agenda Wednesday — a visit to Iraq.

Kenney shared word of his visit on Twitter, noting he's the first Canadian government minister to visit the country since 1976.

Canada hasn't had an ambassador formally in Iraq since 1991, though in 2005 the ambassador to Jordan was tabbed to assume responsibilities for the country.

Officials in Kenney's office dropped no advance hints about the trip, which came after stops in Ukraine and Germany.

While in Baghdad, Kenney met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as well as the country's migration and environment ministers.

Discussions included bilateral trade, migration management, political developments in Iraq, the situation in Syria, and minority rights.

"Have received a wonderful, warm welcome. Iraqis love Canada!," Kenney wrote.

Kenney also attended a ceremony for the new patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, the highest position in the Iraqi Christian community.

The number of Christians in Iraq has dwindled considerably since 2003, as many became targets of Islamic militants and fled the country.

In 2010, 52 worshippers were killed at a Catholic cathedral, which Kenney also visited Wednesday.

Four years ago, Kenney cited the plight of the Christian community in Iraq when he decided to give priority to Iraqi refugees for resettlement in Canada.

In 2009, Canada committed to accepting some 20,000 Iraqi refugees by this year, though only about 12,000 have arrived in Canada so far.

Resettlement efforts have been partially complicated by the closure of Canada's visa offices in Syria in January last year.

The office had been central for processing Iraqi refugee applications, as many had fled to Syria.

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the decision by the United States to invade Iraq.

Canada chose not to formally participate, though former Canadian chief of defence staff, Walt Natynczyk, served there with the American military as part of a high-level exchange program.

A report for the U.S. Congress released Wednesday suggested that despite a decade's worth of work and $60 billion in spending, country is still so unstable even its leaders question whether U.S. efforts to rebuild it were worth the cost.

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