OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian forces will be involved in Iraq for the longer term, Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson hinted on Thursday in remarks made a few weeks before Ottawa is due to decide whether to extend the six-month mandate of its military mission there.
Nicholson, who was named foreign minister last month, made the comments after his first trip to Baghdad and Iraq's northern Kurdistan region, where he met some of the 70 Canadian special forces who are operating in the area.
Canada has also provided six jets to take part in U.S.-led bombing missions against Islamic State militants.
"Canada is not a country that stands on the sidelines ... we're in this for the longer term to make sure that we do what we can to help," Nicholson told reporters on a conference call from Jordan.
"The message I got was that Canada's support has been very helpful and very much appreciated," he said, repeating the right-leaning Conservative government's position that Ottawa will not send regular ground troops to the region.
The mandate of the mission runs out in early April and Nicholson said the government would decide "in the next couple of weeks" what to do.
The Canadian special forces have exchanged fire with Islamic State militants at least three times since being deployed to train Iraqi forces and also identify targets for air strikes.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway