Iraq crisis: British troops will not set foot on Iraqi soil, David Cameron insists

 

No British troops will be sent to fight in Iraq, David Cameron promised today – despite his earlier ringing warning that the spread of Sunni extremism in the war torn country poses a direct threat to the UK.

As the Government’s emergency response committee, nicknamed Cobr, met again, they were told that the Kurdish authorities, whose forces are pushing back Isis, do not want British troops to sent in to fight alongside them but do want western military hardware.

After the meeting, a Downing Street statement said: “This is not about getting dragged into a war in Iraq. We will not be putting combat forces on the ground. The Kurdistan Regional Government has not requested our assistance with putting combat forces on the ground, they say they are capable of fighting this battle, what they need is equipment which is why we will look at providing weapons to the Kurdish troops.”

The flat denial that the UK is to go to war in Iraq again, 11 years after Tony Blair sent in troops to help topple Saddam Hussein, followed reports that British servicemen had been sent to the northern Iraqi town of Irbil to help rescue Yazidi people, Christians threatened by the advance of Sunni fanatics. The Downing Street statement confirmed that “UK military assets” are in the region, to help with humanitarian efforts.

Video: Iraqi and Kurdish forces take back Mosul Dam

The Cobr meeting was chaired by the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, in the absence of David Cameron, who begins a family holiday today. Before he left for Cornwall, the Prime Minister confirmed to journalists that “We are not going to be putting boots on the ground.”

He also ruled out recalling MPs from their summer break to discuss the emergency.

The insistence on keeping out of the fighting contrasts with the Prime Minister’s weekend message, when he warned in an article in the Sunday Telegraph against the danger that Isis might establish “an extremist caliphate” in Iraq and Syria. “It is our concern here and now, because if we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain,” he wrote.

Iraqi Shia fighters prepare to fight Isis militants in Jurf Al Sakhar, 43 miles south of Baghdad AP Iraqi Shia fighters prepare to fight Isis militants in Jurf Al Sakhar, 43 miles south of Baghdad (AP)

Today’s announcement indicated that while the Kurdish peshmarga forces continue their push towards the Mosul Dam, aided by US air strikes, the UK’s contribution will consist of political, diplomatic and humanitarian aid, such as the delivery of tents, cooking equipment and high calorie peanut paste.

The Government is also putting diplomatic pressure on Iraq’s new Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, to form a "unity government" that will attract support from Sunni Arabs and Kurds, as well as from the Shiites who make up a majority of Iraq’s population.

In an email sent out to Conservative supporters, Mr Hammond described the UK’s role as “helping the Kurds fighting against these extremists; working with the Iraqi Government; and using our political relationships, our aid and our military expertise to help the Americans and others who are taking direct military action against them.”

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