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Canada pulls out lone Iraqi diplomat amid strife, ruling out all military help

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OTTAWA - Canada has ruled out any military participation in Iraq to help stem the tide of the rampaging Sunni insurgency.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird made that abundantly clear during question period Monday when a fellow Conservative MP asked for an update on the ongoing strife.

"We are committed to working with the Iraqi leadership," Baird said, before quickly adding: "I should point out that Canada has not been asked to participate in any military effort, nor is it something we are considering."

Canada is distancing itself from the Iraqi crisis as the Obama administration in Washington continues to grapple with a response to the attacks by the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The militant group is on the march towards Baghdad after overrunning the mainly Sunni cities of Fallujah, Mosul and Tikrit.

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out deploying U.S. ground troops after the last of American forces left the country in 2011.

But the White House is considering other military options to aid the Shiite-led government, which is facing its most serious threat since the withdrawal of U.S. troops. They include possible air strikes or the deployment of a relatively small number of special forces.

Canada, meanwhile, has withdrawn its only diplomat from Iraq because of the deteriorating security situation.

Canada's embassy to Iraq is based in the Jordanian capital of Amman, but it did assign one diplomat in country, who was housed in the British Embassy in Baghdad.

A Foreign Affairs spokesman said security concerns forced Canada's acting charge d'affaires to leave Iraq on Sunday. Spokesman John Babcock said the government would reassess its diplomatic presence in Iraq on a daily basis.

Babcock said the security of Canadian officials abroad is a top priority.

Baird travelled to Baghdad 14 months ago, with great fanfare, to announce the new single-person diplomatic post and to declare that Canada was pushing forward in doing more business in Iraq.

"Iraq is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, despite deep and lingering sectarian tensions," Baird said in April 2013.

Despite those tensions — now at the heart of the current violence — Baird said he was optimistic they could be overcome, transforming Iraq into a "pluralist society at peace with its neighbours, one where Muslims, Christians and other religious and ethnic groups will live in security and social harmony."

Foreign Affairs has now issued an advisory against all travel to Iraq, warning the situation there is growing increasingly dangerous and unpredictable.

The U.S. has also moved some of its embassy staff out of Baghdad, and has also deployed three warships, including an aircraft carrier, to the Persian Gulf to protect American interests in Iraq.

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