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'UK STEPS UP ROLE IN IRAQ WITH MOVE TO AID KURDS AND YAZIDIS AGAINST ISIS' [EXTRACT]

Crisis meeting agrees to fly Jordanian military trucks to Kurdish forces and send helicopters to airlift besieged refugees

By Nicholas Watt

Guardian Online – 12 August 2014

Britain is intensifying its involvement in Iraq by flying military equipment on behalf of Jordan to Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State (Isis) jihadists in northern Iraq and despatching a fleet of Chinook helicopters to airlift Yazidi refugees besieged on Mount Sinjar. Hours after the Kurdish security chief Masrour Barazani pleaded with Britain to rally to the help of the Kurds, the government's emergency committee Cobra agreed to transport Jordanian military trucks to Irbil. The move comes amid growing pressure on David Cameron to launch military strikes against the extremists, as former Thatcher ally Conor Burns warned that Isis forces "want a holocaust".

… Hammond told the Cobra meeting that an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers may be held to agree to arm the Kurdish forces leading the fight against Isis. It is understood that France and some of the new EU member states in Eastern Europe are keen to arm the Kurdish forces amid fears that Isis presents a strategic threat both to the region and to Europe. Britain has some sympathy for the French view though the government may not join in arming the Kurds amid signs that that may be a step too far for the Liberal Democrat side of the coalition.

… Downing Street insisted that the government is not contemplating military action. But three Tory MPs who opposed the planned military strikes against the regime of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad last year, indicated support for action in Iraq. Dr Julian Lewis, a member of parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee, Nick de Bois and Dr Phillip Lee all called for parliament to be recalled.

Lewis told the Guardian:

"The government was proposing last year to take military action to overthrow an appalling dictator with no guarantee that our deadly enemies from al-Qaida would not be successful in taking his place; and, if they did so, they would inherit a ready-made stock of the very sorts of deadly chemical weapons we had gone to war in Iraq in the mistaken belief that we were trying to keep those from getting into extremists' hands.

"This is a totally different situation in Iraq. Far from assisting our deadly enemies to get more power, this would be a question of assisting the people of the region to resist our deadly enemies who are a totalitarian, extremist death cult and possess an ideology that is a direct threat to western values and civilisation."

Alistair Burt, a former Middle East minister, warned that Isis jihadists must be "killed soon" as he voiced support for arming Kurdish forces. Describing the Isis forces as "fascist and lawless bandits" that must be defeated by military action, Burt told the Guardian:

"You have to eliminate IS [Isis]. These people will not go to the negotiating table in Geneva. These people have to be killed and have to be killed soon."

Senior Tories say that Cameron's defeat in last year's vote, during an emergency recall of parliament at the end of August after Assad's forces launched a chemical weapons strike against a Damascus suburb, helps explain his reluctance to join the US in launching air strikes against Isis forces. George Osborne advised the Prime Minister after the vote that it would be all but impossible to secure parliamentary support for future military interventions during the current parliament because of a sizeable contingent of Tory MPs opposed to intervention and a belief in No 10 that Ed Miliband acted in a duplicitous manner.

"David Cameron and George are leery about relying on Ed Miliband,"

one senior Tory said. But Tories also say that the Cameron is mindful of public opinion which is wary of military intervention. A ComRes poll for ITV News found overwhelming support (84%) for supplying humanitarian aid to Iraqi civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar. It found that more people (45%) support airstrikes against Isis forces than oppose such action – 37%. But the poll found that voters are overwhelmingly opposed to sending in British troops – by 63% to 18%.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, warned of "incalculable" consequences if Kurdistan fell to Isis. He told 'The World at One' on BBC Radio 4:

"I am not persuaded at the moment that the UK should join in airstrikes along with the UK. But one has to keep an open mind about that because circumstances change very rapidly. If the northern part of Iraq, what we colloquially refer to as Kurdistan, were to fall then the consequences in an already unstable region would be incalculable."