Britain's defence minister is urging Canada to expand its commitment to Iraq during what he says is a "critical stage" in the battle against Islamic State militants.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told The Globe and Mail in an interview in Ottawa on Friday that he planned to encourage Canada's defence minister to firm up plans to contribute to training for Iraqi security forces.
His comments came as military planners from 33 countries wrapped up a conference in Florida on the future of the U.S.-led mission against Islamic State.
Mr. Fallon, who is attending an international security forum in Halifax this weekend, said now is the time for Western countries to solidify their support for Iraq's new government, which has so far proved to be inclusive and democratic.
"I think it is the last chance for Iraq, and this is the moment to back it," he said.
The British minister expressed support for U.S. plans to open four training bases in Iraq that coalition members could use to help train Iraqi and peshmerga security forces. He said the training would likely take about a year to complete and the new bases could be ready as early as January.
While Britian's plans are not yet finalized, Mr. Fallon said his government is expecting to offer expertise to counter improvised explosive devices and would likely work out of all four bases. He said he expected to discuss the question of training with Defence Minister Rob Nicholson during a lunchtime meeting on Friday.
"It's for each country to decide how best to meet the training needs," Mr. Fallon said. "But I'll be sharing with [Mr. Nicholson] the lessons from my visit to Baghdad and Erbil two weeks ago and obviously encouraging him to firm up the Canadian offer."
Canada has close to 70 special forces offering training to security forces in northern Iraq and is participating in coalition air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq. The Canadian combat mission, which began in October, is currently set for six months.
Mr. Fallon said Canada has already made a significant contribution to the anti-Islamic State effort through its participation in coalition air strikes.
During the past three weeks, Canadian fighter jets have struck a warehouse used to manufacture improvised explosive devices, a piece of artillery, some construction equipment and a bunker.
"But if there's more [Canada] can do on training, if there's more they can offer in terms of stocks of arms and ammunition they don't need, now is the time to throw it into the fight," Mr. Fallon added. "It's at quite a critical stage now."
Asked during a Halifax news conference about the possibility of sending more troops to support training efforts in Iraq, Mr. Nicholson reiterated the six-month time frame for the current mission. He added that he would not speculate on any other possible decision.
Mr. Fallon said air strikes are going well and are beginning to push militants back. The next step, he said, will be to fill in the void with Iraqi and peshmerga security forces. "It's not enough to throw ISIL out of a village that's occupied, you have to then fill in behind it with a security force that has the support of the local population," he said, using a previous acronym for the group.
Before travelling on to Halifax, Mr. Fallon laid a wreath at the National War Memorial in Ottawa to honour Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who was shot to death last month. The RCMP have said the suspected shooter was driven by ideological and political motives.
"His brutal murder is a reminder that this is all our fight," Mr. Fallon said of Cpl. Cirillo. "All Western democracies have an interest in combating ISIL, both its ideology and its attack on the legitimate government of Iraq."