Britain last night refused to rule out joining US air strikes on militants in Iraq if the bloodshed worsened, while making clear it would only provide technical assistance for now.
The deepening crisis in northern Iraq was discussed at an emergency meeting of ministers and military chiefs in London.
The Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, backed the US action, but made clear that Britain’s involvement in the war zone would be limited to humanitarian support. Later, UK government sources indicated Britain’s position on military action could be reviewed if the crisis deepened.
Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities facing ethnic cleansing at the hands of Islamist extremists should be given refuge in Britain.
The Archbishop said: “The horrific events in Iraq rightly call our attention and sorrow yet again. Christians and other religious minorities are being killed and face terrible suffering.” He warned that people’s right to freedom of religion and belief was being “brutally violated” and said Britain’s doors “should be open to refugees”.
His intervention follows a campaign, backed by The Independent, for Britain to offer sanctuary to Syrians fleeing persecution during its civil war. The Government relented and earlier this year promised to give asylum to some of the most vulnerable victims of the war.
The Archbishop added: “The international community must document human rights abuses being committed in northern Iraq so that future prosecutions can take place. It is important and necessary for the international community to challenge the culture of impunity which has allowed these atrocities to take place.
“With the world’s attention on the plight of those in Iraq, we must not forget that this is part of an evil pattern around the world where Christians and other minorities are being killed and persecuted for their faith.”
British air-drops to the besieged Yazidis are set to begin within 48 hours. The supplies include reusable filtration containers filled with clean water, tents and tarpaulins to provide basic shelter, and solar lights that can also recharge mobile phones to enable communication.
Earlier, David Cameron insisted the world must help the Yazidis in their “hour of desperate need” as he backed President Barack Obama’s authorisation of air strikes on advancing Isis fighters. “I am extremely concerned by the appalling situation in Iraq and the desperate situation facing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. I am especially concerned for the Yazidi community now trapped on Mount Sinjar,” the Prime Minister said.
Douglas Alexander, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: “The Church here in Britain should be applauded for raising the profile of this appalling suffering and persecution. The British Government should be speaking out, and acting quickly to ensure that the international community does not simply walk by on the other side.”Reuse content