By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
OTTAWA-Canada’s spy agency was kept out of the loop by Foreign Affairs on the fate of the sole remaining Iraqi diplomat in Canada following the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to “secret” U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by APTN National News.
Canadian and U.S. officials were keeping an eye Mamdouh Mustafa, who was classified as a charge d’affaires at the Iraqi embassy in Ottawa, in the days following the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to the cables.
Separate cables also show that Iraq’s ambassador to Canada turned to the U.S. in 2009 to press a reluctant Canadian government to allow out-of-country polling stations for the March 2010 Iraqi elections. Iraq also asked the U.S. government to press Canada on finally opening an embassy in Baghdad.
The cables were provided to APTN National News by whistle-blower website WikiLeaks.
CBC-Radio Canada also obtained the same batch from WikiLeaks.
A number of cables around the Iraq war also revealed that U.S. officials were hoping that George W. Bush’s decision to postpone a planned state visit to Ottawa would be a “reality check” for Canada over its decision to take a pass on the Iraq war.
U.S. diplomats in Canada were glad to see the back of former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien and looking forward to the ascendancy of former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, the cables show.
“We will be on better footing after the February 2004 departure of Prime Minister Chretien, who prefers to work within international institutions even when they prove ineffective and even when doing so damages our bilateral relationship,” said an April 22, 2003 cable. “We expect his successor, probably ex-Finance Minister Paul Martin, to bring greater balance to Canadian foreign policy.”
While there seemed to be discord on the surface, Canadian and U.S. officials appeared to have been working closely together in monitoring the activities of the sole remaining Iraqi diplomat in Canada.
The U.S. agreed with Canada’s decision to not immediately expel Mustafa, but he was kept under close watch nonetheless while the RCMP provided security at the embassy, according to the cables.
Canada also appeared to be concerned over whether Mustafa attempted to destroy Iraqi government records.
“The GoC continues to monitor closely the activities of the one Iraqi diplomat remaining in the country, Charge Mamdouh Mustafa, and had no indication that he was destroying Iraqi government records or property,” according to one of the cables from April 11, 2003. “The GoC was looking for an opportunity to remove items of an ‘undiplomatic nature’ from the premises of the Iraqi embassy.
The cable does not say what those items were.
The cable notes that Mustafa was initially unclear as to what he should do next.
Chris Hull, a Foreign Affairs officer on the Iraq desk, told U.S. diplomats that Mustafa likely wouldn’t be given refugee status, but he was open to apply. Hull also said that Canada could also consider declaring him a “persona non grata,” the cable noted.
A little over a month later, Mustafa decided to go back to Baghdad and the federal government decided to help him out, but never mentioned the plan to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
“GoC…taken a decision to facilitate the return to Baghdad or Iraqi Charge d’Affaires Mamdouh S. Mustafa, the sole Iraqi diplomat remaining in Canada,” the March 22, 2003, cable said. “Sources at post advise that CSIS (Canadian intelligence) was unaware of the…decision to facilitate Mustafa’s departure from Canada.”
Six years later, Foreign Affairs officials seemed to still want to keep a distance from events in Iraq, even as the country prepared for its March 2010 election.
Iraq’s ambassador to Canada turned to the U.S. to press the Stephen Harper government into allowing the Iraqi embassy to set up “out of country” polling stations for the vote.
Over a Dec. 10, 2009, lunch, Howar Ziad asked U.S. officials to press the Canadian government to change its mind on the issue.
“Ziad noted that his informal conversations with Department of Foreign Affairs…officials were ‘not encouraging,’ which he said he found ‘puzzling,’ given that DFAIT had permitted ‘at least four other nations’ to set up out of country polling places in Canada,” according to the cable, which was sent the same day as the lunch. “Ziad emphasized that he is seeking U.S. support before he makes an official approach.”
Ziad also asked the U.S. to press Canada on finally opening up an embassy in Baghdad, “noting that it was the sole G8 member without a diplomatic presence in the capital.”
The cable, an “action request” from U.S. ambassador David Jacobson sent to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asks for direction on whether to approach the Canadian government with Ziad’s concerns.
It’s unclear if the U.S. went to bat for Ziad.
Canada did allow for out of country polling during and former foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon made note of it in a statement praising the Iraqi election.
“In support of Iraq’s democracy, Canada was proud to host out-of-country voting to enable the members of Canada’s Iraqi community to exercise their right to vote in this election, and to deploy a team of official observers to Iraq to monitor the vote on election day,” Cannon said in the March 8, 2010 statement.
The cable notes that there were about 85,000 Iraqi citizens in Canada at the time.
A Foreign Affairs spokesperson said Canada is still monitoring the security situation in Iraq “with a view to reestablishing a permanent Canadian presence as soon as Canada judges it feasible to do so.”