Diplomatic relations between Iraq and Canada were established in 1961 and have fluctuated over the years. During the years preceding Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, relations between both countries were normal. However, they were interrupted after the invasion as Iraq became subject to strict international sanctions pursuant to resolutions of the UN Security Council. Following the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003, mutual relations resumed and have been characterized by co-operation.
Canada has helped Iraq rebuild its institutions, especially the democratic ones. Canada also trained many representatives of various Iraqi governmental and legislative institutions, including those involved in democracy promotion, enhancement of human rights and good governance for the new federal and decentralized Iraq. Iraq’s laws related to its provinces were amended after a visit to Canada by a delegation of members of the provinces’ committee in Iraq’s parliament.
When it comes to trade, an agreement for economic and technical co-operation between Iraq and Canada was ratified in 1983. In accordance with this agreement, a joint ministerial committee was established. This committee is supposed to hold meetings in Baghdad and Ottawa for the purposes of implementing, monitoring and revising this agreement. However, the committee stopped working after 1990 when Saddam invaded Kuwait. Both governments agree this agreement is still valid.
When it comes to trade, Canada sent exports worth $98 million to Iraq in the first quarter of 2016. Included in this were agricultural products, especially wheat, industrial and chemical materials as well as metals, wood, cars, spare parts for cars and planes and medical materials and equipment. Iraq was a major importer of Canadian wheat — it imported about one million tonnes between 2009 and 2010. However, this number dropped last year to just 250,000 tonnes.
Clearly, trade between Iraq and Canada has a lot more potential. Both countries must try harder to develop mutual economic and commercial relations.
First, we must promote communication that will enhance relations in all respects, especially economic ones. This may include establishing a commercial office in Baghdad to foster and develop economic co-operation between both countries and revitalizing the work of the Canadian embassy in Baghdad by enabling it to issue entry visas to Iraqis, especially for business people, instead of forcing them to get visas in neighbouring countries, as these procedures normally take a long time. We should also re-establish direct flights between Canada and Iraq to promote the bilateral exchange of passengers and commodities.
Iraq and Canada should reinvigorate the 1983 agreement on economic and technical co-operation by establishing a joint committee that would hold yearly meetings in one of the two capitals. The aim of this committee would be to improve communication, promote trade and encourage and foster investment in both countries.
The two governments should also work toward establishing project priorities, financing them, providing guarantees for investors and facilitating transactions.
The Canadian private sector can also play a role by investing in Iraq. In fact, Iraq provides hundreds of investment opportunities in important sectors such as infrastructure, medical, industry, agriculture, transportation, housing and oil.
Iraq is a promising field for investment today and in the future. It badly requires a rebuilding of much of its infrastructure, which has been destroyed by wars, sanctions and blockades. Most recently, ISIL’s occupation of some Iraqi cities has led to huge devastation.
On a positive note, the Canadian Business Council successfully organized a joint conference in April 2016 with the union of Iraqi businessmen in Toronto. This conference led to the signing of some commercial and industrial agreements between business people in both countries.
Canada can also help Iraq with its technological know-how in certain fields, including agriculture and oil and gas. Helping Iraq develop capacity in these fields would be welcomed. Canadian industry can also benefit from resources in Iraq, such as manpower, technical experience and raw materials.
After the change of the Iraqi regime in 2003, Iraq and Canada became close allies. We share the same democratic principles, respect human rights and stand together in fighting international terrorism. However, to promote and strengthen relations between the two countries, we must work harder.
Abdul Kareem Toma M. Kaab is the ambassador of Iraq. Reach him by email at email@example.com or by phone at (613) 236-2629.