Parliament to be recalled to endorse UK air strikes in Iraq

Parliament to be recalled to endorse UK air strikes in Iraq

Opposition leader Ed Miliband has told the PM he will support UK involvement in Iraq, but not at this stage in Syria.

Parliament is to be recalled on Friday to endorse British air strikes in Iraq following assurances from the leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, to the prime minister that his party will support UK military involvement in the country.

Britain is likely to send RAF Tornado aircraft into action, possibly as early as this weekend, once MPs grant approval.

In a short statement, a Downing Street spokesman said: “The Speaker has agreed to the prime minister’s request to recall parliament this Friday to debate the UK’s response to the request from the Iraqi government for air strikes to support operations against Islamic State [Isis] in Iraq.

“The Commons will meet on Friday for a debate on a substantive motion. The prime minister will open the debate and the deputy prime minister will close the debate. The prime minister has called a meeting of the cabinet tomorrow at 1pm.”

Parliament will not debate any UK action in Syria at this stage, after Labour indicated it would not support British involvement there without a UN resolution to authorise action in a country where military help to fight Isis has not been requested.

The request to Miliband came at lunchtime in a phone call from David Cameron. Labour sources emphasised that action in Syria would require a further second motion; Cameron did not press the issue with Miliband because he knew Miliband was opposed.

At the close of the Labour party conference in Manchester on Wednesday, Miliband convened an emergency meeting of the shadow cabinet to endorse military action in Iraq, so providing Cameron the assurance he needed that he would win the Commons vote. The path was further cleared when Cameron met the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, in New York to receive a formal request for military action, so clearing a vital legal hurdle to UK involvement.

Cameron became the first British prime minister since 1979 to meet his Iranian counterpart when he met President Hassan Rouhani to discuss the support Iran could provide to squeeze Isis in Iraq.

Speaking to reporters in New York, Cameron made clear that he envisages British warplanes joining coalition airstrikes within Iraqi, and that there would be no “boots on the ground”.

Isis posed a “clear and present danger to the United Kingdom” and the Baghdad government’s invitation gave “a clear legal base” for British military action, he said.

But he did not rule out later extending operations to Isis strongholds in Syria – targeted by the US and its allies for the first time on Monday – saying that this would happen only after a separate debate and vote in Parliament.

Cameron was due to give a speech to the United Nations general assembly last night in which he was expected to acknowledge the wariness felt by many in the international community over military action in Iraq, following the decade of violence which followed the US-led invasion of 2003. But he was expected to say it was vital to “learn the right lessons – yes to careful preparation; no to rushing to join a conflict without a clear plan.”

He was expected to warn: “We must not be so frozen with fear that we don’t do anything at all. Isolation and withdrawing from a problem like Isil will only make things worse.

“We must not allow past mistakes to become an excuse for indifference or inaction.”

Miliband’s refusal to back military action in Syria at this stage is partly due to the absence of a clear legal justification, including a request to do so from a recognised democratic government. He is also concerned that an air campaign backed by the inadequate forces of the Free Syrian Army would be unlikely to work at the moment. He said the first step should be a UN security council resolution on action in Syria. It is likely Russia would veto any such resolution.

It is expected that there will be a handful of Labour rebels opposing action in Iraq, but the debate will reveal the preparedness of the political class to countenance what may turn into a year-long battle to degrade and destroy Isis, including eventually removing the militants from their base in northern Syria.

Senior Labour sources said no UN security council resolution was required for British involvement in Iraq since it followed a request from a democratic government. The request was justified since it was a last resort and involved a broad coalition of support including from Arab countries.

Cameron suffered a humiliating defeat in the Commons a year ago when he failed to win support for air strikes to punish Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, for the use of chemical weapons. With a history of distrust between the two front benches, Cameron delayed announcing the recall until he was given bankable guarantees that Labour would support action in Iraq.

Miliband said: “I think Isis is a threat that cannot be ignored because their murderous ways against British people and people of all nationalities and all religions.”

He added: “I think there’s a higher bar, for me, for UK military action in Syria. I’m not going to go out and say I oppose the US action in Syria because I think that Isis is a murderous organisation and they do need to be degraded. As far as the use of British combat forces is concerned, I do want to see a UN resolution, and that’s indeed what I’ve called for.”

  • The Guardian,

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