National News

Baird hear's Kurdish call for help

By Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

IRBIL, Iraq - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird visited a front-line combat post in northern Iraq Thursday and heard a plea for military help from a senior Kurdish leader.

On his second day in the war-torn country, Baird and two opposition MPs got to within a kilometre of about 150 fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, the al-Qaida splinter group waging a relentless offensive across this region.

The minister climbed to the bunker position, surveyed the landscape, and was briefed by Rowsch Nouri Sharways, the Iraqi deputy prime minister.

Baird described the visit to the fortified Kurdish Peshmerga position as an eye-opener, saying that being so close "puts it in perspective, for sure."

"It's not just an abstract problem taking place in a distant land, it's right in front of your eyes," he said.

"The horrifying thought is to see all these tents that came with all the families that were forced to leave their home, the horrific circumstances to have to be here."

Baird later issued a statement praising the Kurds.

"By offering safe haven to over 850,000 displaced persons internally and by engaging in direct combat with ISIL forces, the Kurdish people have shown the world their strength and their commitment to pluralism and peace," said Baird.

"Canada stands by the security forces in Iraq, including the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, in achieving this goal."

Baird also announced another $7 million in humanitarian assistance for relief supplies, emergency shelter and health care for thousands of civilians displaced by the fighting in northern Iraq.

But the Kurds need more, said Faud Hussein, chief of staff to the president of the Kurdish regional government.

"We need more weapons ... it will be a long fight," he said at a joint news conference with Baird. "We are fighting a terrorist state that has roots in various countries."

Hussein said sophisticated U.S. weapons used by the Iraqi army have fallen into ISIL hands. The insurgents are also getting arms and money from places like Syria.

"Our fight is your fight also. We need tanks, helicopters and artillery."

Baird said Canada and its allies currently meeting at NATO would be discussing a co-ordinated military response to the ISIL crisis.

He also met the bishop of Chaldean Catholic Church and other clergy in the regional capital of Irbil, as well as making a stop at the palace to meet the Kurdish president.

The minister also toured refugee camps and had conversations with numerous people.

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