His first stop was a meeting with President Fuad Masoum. The Canadian delegation, including opposition MPs, was fitted out with flak jackets for a high-speed, heavily guarded dash to the presidential palace from the airport.
“We are many, all Canadians in government, deeply concerned with the security threat,” Baird told the president. “We wanted to come here to show our solidarity with the Iraqi people. We want to congratulate you on your nomination as president.”
Baird’s unannounced visit – his second to Iraq in almost 18 months – comes just days after a major battlefield breakthrough in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaeda splinter group wreaking havoc across Syria and northern and western Iraq.
Baird’s agenda includes meetings with senior members of the incoming government of Haider-al-Abadi, the successor to Nouri al-Maliki, who served as Iraq’s prime minister for the last eight years.
“Canada has consistently called for Iraqi leaders to come together and govern for all Iraqis, regardless of religion, for the sake of the security, democracy and prosperity that the Iraqi people are striving to implant in their country,” Baird’s spokesman Rick Roth said ahead of the minister’s arrival in Baghdad.
“It is our hope that this visit highlights our commitment on this front.”
The message was to be reinforced by opposition MPs Paul Dewar and Marc Garneau, the NDP and Liberal foreign affairs critics, who accompanied Baird to Baghdad at his request in a show of non-partisan political solidarity.
The Canadian delegation wants al-Abadi to build a strong cabinet that believes in tolerance.
“It will have to be more than one-face change,” said Dewar. “A new prime minister needs to have a team around him that is going to include all minorities, particularly including the Sunnis.”