In the first ministerial contact between Canada and Iran in more than 18 months, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Phillipe Champagne has protested the Iranian missile attack that targeted bases in Iraq where Canadian troops were located.
Mr. Champagne, in a phone call with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, said he “condemned” the Iranian missile strikes that were aimed at “bases in Iraq where coalition forces, including Canadians, are stationed.”
He made the protest during a phone call on Wednesday night (Thursday morning in Iran) that was dominated mainly by discussion of the plane crash in Iran that killed 176 people, including 63 Canadians.
No Canadian troops or other coalition forces were injured by the 22 missiles that were fired from Iran on Tuesday night, hitting two bases in Iraq where U.S. and other troops are stationed. The attack was in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed the Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani last Friday.
Just hours before the Iranian missile attack on the two bases, Canadian military commander General Jonathan Vance announced that Canada was relocating some of its soldiers from Iraq to Kuwait “to ensure their safety and security.” Officials have declined to give any details of the number of soldiers to be relocated or how long they would stay in Kuwait. It is unclear if any were relocated before the missile attack on Tuesday night.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking to the media on Wednesday, said his government condemned the “deeply concerning” missile attacks on the bases. But there was no direct contact with Iranian officials until a few hours later, when Mr. Champagne spoke by telephone to his Iranian counterpart.
Canada closed its embassy in Iran in 2012, cutting off its formal diplomatic relations and expelling Iranian diplomats from Ottawa. It cited several reasons for the decision, including Iran’s threats to Israel, its support for the Syrian regime and fears for the safety of Canadian diplomats in Iran.
The last contact between the two sides, at a senior level, was in May, 2018, when Chrystia Freeland, then the Canadian foreign minister, spoke by telephone with Mr. Zarif to discuss Canada’s demands for the release of Iranian-Canadian dual citizen Maryam Mombeini, who was barred from leaving Iran after her husband’s suspicious death in an Iranian prison.
On Tuesday night, the Iranian missiles hit two military bases where U.S. troops and other coalition forces are based. One of the two bases, in Erbil, has 30 Canadian troops stationed in it. They are part of a tactical aviation detachment that operates three Griffon helicopters to carry Canadian troops and equipment.
“I can confirm that there were Canadians at the Canadian base in Erbil when the rockets landed, but they are all safe,” Mr. Trudeau told journalists on Wednesday.
The second base struck by Iranian missiles, al-Asad, about 160 kilometres from Baghdad, is one of the largest bases in Iraq, used jointly by U.S. and Iraqi troops. There has been no public indication of Canadian troops at al-Asad base, and federal officials say there weren’t any Canadian troops there.
In total, there are about 500 Canadian Forces members in Iraq, but Canada’s defence department has declined to give a detailed breakdown of the number of Canadian troops in different bases in Iraq, citing safety concerns.
With files from Steven Chase in Ottawa and Campbell Clark in Kuwait