Iraq crisis: Britain prepared to arm Kurdish fighters

Government 'would be open to' a request for direct military assistance

The UK is prepared to send military equipment to Kurdish fighters battling the forces of Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq, a Government source has said.

David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and others agreed the change in policy at a meeting of Cobra on Thursday.

France has announced it will arm the Kurds but Britain had previously only said it would help transport supplies.

However a Government source said late on Thursday that “if the Kurds came to us with a request for direct military assistance, that’s something we certainly would be open to”.

He said this could “potentially” include weapons and ammunition, along with other equipment such as night vision goggles.

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The source said that “as far as I’m aware” the Kurdish authorities had not made a request.

However, it appeared likely that one would be made with Masrour Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Region’s National Security Council, already having appealed to the international community to send heavy weapons.

In an interview with BBC’s HARDtalk, he said: “We need more modern weaponry. We need heavy armour, we need effective weapons that can be effective against the force Isis seized over the last month.”

Mr Barzani specifically mentioned the UK, saying it had a duty to help the Kurds given its past involvement in the region. The UK and France were responsible for drawing up the map of much of the Middle East after World War One.

Responding to the offer from the UK, due to be made public in Brussels on Friday, Mr Barzani told The Guardian: “If it's true, we welcome and appreciate the British decision to supply us with the effective weapons that we've been asking for.”