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British Prime Minister will meet with Cabinet Ministers Thursday and argue before Parliament Friday

By Nicholas Winning and Jenny Gross

Wall Street Journal Europe Online – 24 September 2014

LONDON – British Prime Minister David Cameron will hold a parliamentary debate Friday on whether the UK should participate in airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq, Downing Street said, amid gathering domestic support of military intervention to tackle the extremist group in Iraq. Mr. Cameron is in New York attending the United Nations General Assembly, where he is talking to partners about what more the UK and others could do to contribute to the international fight against Islamic State. The UK Parliament is currently in recess, but Mr. Cameron has recalled it to meet after his return to the UK

... Friday's parliamentary debate will be about

"the UK's response to the request from the Iraqi Government for air strikes to support operations against ISIL in Iraq,"

Downing Street said in a statement Wednesday. Mr. Cameron will meet with his cabinet ministers on Thursday. A UK government spokesman said Friday's debate was in response to a request from the Iraqi government and didn't involve the question of whether to join international airstrikes in neighboring Syria. The U.S. and several regional allies have carried out airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria.

While there appears to be building momentum in the UK for support of airstrikes in Iraq across the political establishment, Mr. Cameron might have a tougher time securing parliamentary support if he wants to extend those also to Syria. Last year, Mr. Cameron suffered an embarrassing parliamentary defeat over military action in Syria. His efforts were derailed by the main opposition Labour Party as well as some members of his own Conservative Party, amid complaints that he had rushed the vote, hadn't made a convincing enough case for military involvement and that it raised legal questions because it wasn't at the invitation of the Syrian regime.

… As Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron has the authority to launch military action unilaterally. However, he has said that he would seek Parliament's approval before doing so in Iraq unless there is an urgent humanitarian need to act. In light of his defeat last year over Syria, some lawmakers say it is even more important to secure parliamentary approval before taking military action in Iraq.

One major difference between now and a year ago is the escalating threat posed by the militant group Islamic State, known as ISIS or ISIL. In early summer it swept from Syria into northern Iraq, decimating the Iraqi army and taking control of major cities and oil fields. In July, it declared its leader to be a new Islamic caliph. In recent months, the group has claimed to have killed three Western hostages – two Americans journalists and one British aid worker – and has threatened to kill another British man, an aid convoy volunteer. A third British man has appeared in videos apparently produced by the extremist group.

The Prime Minister also has been building support among those in the Middle East for UK intervention in Iraq – a key item on his diplomatic agenda while he is at the UN. Mr. Cameron met Wednesday with Iran's President, Hasan Rouhani  – the first meeting between a British Prime Minister and an Iranian President since the 1979 revolution – where the two leaders discussed the threat posed by Islamic State, among other things.

In recent days some senior figures in the center-left Labour Party have publicly said they believe the situation in Iraq is different than that in Syria last year and they believe there could be a legal basis to launch airstrikes in Iraq, particularly if the government in Baghdad requests British assistance. Labour leader Ed Miliband said Wednesday that his party would support military intervention.

"We cannot turn away from the threat of ISIL which is a murderous organization, has taken British hostages, threatens the stability of the region and is therefore a threat to the UK's national interest,"

Mr. Miliband said in a statement.

There appears to be growing support for involvement in Iraq within Mr. Cameron's own Conservative Party, which had been divided on last year's question of airstrikes in Syria. Some senior Conservative Party figures and military officials have called for a wider British role in the anti-Islamic State campaign. Some Conservative lawmakers who voted against military intervention in Syria say they would support action in Iraq.

Julian Lewis, a Conservative Member of Parliament, was among the most outspoken opponents of airstrikes in Syria last year. But on Tuesday, he said he would support military action against Islamic State if Arab troops are also on the ground leading the campaign.

"This is a different situation,"

said Mr. Lewis, who was a former shadow defense minister.

"Here our deadly enemies are not on the side we are proposing to help but on the side we oppose."

Still, some lawmakers have reservations about British intervention. John Baron, a Conservative Member of Parliament, said he would need answers to key questions before supporting a mission in Iraq and Syria. Among them: Who would replace Islamic State if the terrorist group is degraded or destroyed?

"I'm still asking these questions and, unless I get satisfactory answers, I will be opposing military intervention again,"

Mr. Baron said Wednesday.

… Mr. Cameron has said the UK will take whatever steps are necessary to combat the threat posed by Islamic State, although he has ruled out committing combat troops to the region. Up to now, the UK has pursued a strategy of trying to put pressure on Islamic State by supporting a unity government in Iraq, working to make sure Kurdish regional forces have the arms and supplies they need to fight the extremists, and providing humanitarian aid.

Earlier this month, the UK began delivering a gift of heavy machine guns and nearly half a million rounds of ammunition to Kurdish regional forces known as Peshmerga, who are battling Islamic State insurgents. It was the first time Britain directly had supplied weapons to the Peshmerga in this conflict. The British air force also is conducting surveillance operations with Tornado jets and other aircraft. But Mr. Cameron won't want to repeat the experience of the conflict in Iraq in 2003 and Britain's swift backing of a U.S. invasion there. The UK's involvement proved deeply unpopular with the British public, particularly after allegations in a media report that the government had manipulated intelligence on Iraq's weapons used to justify taking the country to war …