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Middle East

Iraq crisis: Britain is prepared to arm Kurdish fighters to push back 'terrible threat' of Isis, Foreign Secretary says

Philip Hammond said UK would 'consider favourably' requests for weapons

The Foreign Secretary has confirmed that the UK is likely to grant requests to arm Kurdish fighters in Iraq to push back the “terrible threat” of the Islamic State (Isis).

Philip Hammond’s announcement followed David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s agreement to support the Kurdish Peshmerga at a Cobra meeting on Thursday.

“The UK has said we will also consider favourably any requests for supplies of arms,” he said. “We are already shipping ammunition and supplies from other East European countries into Irbil.”

The Conservative MP is gathering with his European counterparts in Brussels to discuss the EU’s response to the crisis in Iraq.

Irbil, in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq, has become a haven for Kurds and refugees fleeing from Isis’ bloody advance through the country.

Peshmerga fighters have successfully defended the region so far and helped thousands of Yazidis escape starvation and death on Mount Sinjar last week but complain they are out-gunned by Isis.

Mr Hammond said the European Union would send a “clear signal” supporting the new Iraqi administration following the resignation of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had been widely blamed for marginalising Sunnis and fuelling the rise of Shia militants.

He said: "Iraq now needs to have an inclusive government representing all the people of Iraq so that we can get behind it and push back this terrible threat from Isis."

France has already its intention to send weapons to the Kurds.

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The Foreign Secretary added that Mr Maliki's decision was "an important step at a crucial moment for Iraq" and called for a smooth transition of power to the moderate Haider Abadi.

He said: "We congratulate him on acting so clearly in the national interest of Iraq.

“Iraq must see a smooth transition of power, and I hope this decision will contribute to the quick formation of a unified and inclusive government that can address the serious security, humanitarian and political challenges that Iraq faces.”

Additional reporting by PA