18 Aug 2014

What is the UK government’s strategy in Iraq?

David Cameron insists the government has a “fully worked through” strategy to tackle Islamic State (IS) extremists in Iraq and Europe.

The prime minister on Monday stressed troops would not get involved in another war in the troubled country – but argued that limited action was needed to prevent violence spreading to British streets.

With the US carrying out air strikes against IS forces, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon revealed at the weekend that the RAF had now deployed the Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft alongside Tornado bombers to provide vital intelligence on extremist movements across Iraq.

But senior Church of England bishops have complained that the government has no “coherent or comprehensive approach” to Islamist extremism and is failing to protect Christians from persecution.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Cameron said: “What we are trying to do is to help with the situation that we face. First of all, that is the humanitarian situation that we face… but alongside the humanitarian crisis there is also a political and extremism crisis in Iraq that has a direct effect on us back here in the UK.”

1. Humanitarian aid

Mr Cameron reiterated on Monday that the British focus remained the humanitarian situation. The UK has so far committed £13m in new assistance in response to the crisis in Iraq.

The UK has delivered aid to displaced Iraqis currently living in refugee camps across northern Iraq and to the 12,000 Yazidis who have escaped from Mount Sinjar to a refugee camp over the Syrian border.

On Saturday, two Airbus flights landed in Erbil carrying UK aid supplies that will now be distributed by UN agencies to people cut off from their homes in camps across the Dahuk region of northern Iraq.

In addition, the RAF at the weekend made seven successful air drops of UK aid over Mount Sinjar including water containers, solar lamps and shelter kits.

2. Arming Kurdish forces

The Foreign Office on Friday said the UK was promoting an “inclusive, sovereign and democratic Iraq that can push back on Isis advances and restore stability and security across the country”.

Mr Cameron said: “We do want to have, and we do have, a fully worked through strategy for helping allies to deal with this monstrous organisation, IS.

“So we are helping the Kurds, we are working with the Iraqi government to make sure it is more representative of the whole country and, of course, we are working with neighbours and allies to put the maximum amount of pressure on IS and make sure it is properly dealt with.

“We have said that if the Kurds, the peshmerga, want to have arms from us, that is something we would consider favourably.

“Up to now they have not been making that request. Really the sort of weapons they have been using have been more eastern bloc variety, and so they have been supplied by others.”

Mr Cameron said he viewed the Kurds as the “first line of defence against these murderous extremists in IS that are causing so much damage in Iraq”.

3. Tackle threat to Britain

Finally the Foreign Office said it was working with the international community to tackle the broader threat that Isis poses to the region and other countries around the world.

Mr Cameron added: “We have already had the first IS motivated attacks in Europe; for instance, the dreadful terrorism that took place in Brussels just a few weeks ago.”

However, he stressed: “I want to be absolutely clear to you and to families watching at home, Britain is not going to get involved in another war in Iraq. We are not going to be putting boots on the ground. We are not going to be sending in the British Army.

“Yes, we should use all the assets that we have, our diplomacy, our political relationships, our aid, the military prowess, the expertise that we have to help others – we should use these things as part of a strategy to put pressure on Islamic State and make sure this terrorist organisation is properly addressed and it cannot cause mayhem on our own streets.”

The PM said “keeping people safe here at home” was his “number one, two and three priorities”.