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The use of Air Strikes in Iraq

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On Friday 26th September, Parliament was recalled to debate and vote on the UK joining air strikes in Iraq against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), also known as IS or ISIS.

The wording of the Government motion put before the House of Commons was:

“That this House condemns the barbaric acts of ISIL against the peoples of Iraq including the Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Christians and Yazidi and the humanitarian crisis this is causing; recognises the clear threat ISIL poses to the territorial integrity of Iraq and the request from the Government of Iraq for military support from the international community and the specific request to the UK Government for such support; further recognises the threat ISIL poses to wider international security and the UK directly through its sponsorship of terrorist attacks and its murder of a British hostage; acknowledges the broad coalition contributing to military support of the Government of Iraq including countries throughout the Middle East; further acknowledges the request of the Government of Iraq for international support to defend itself against the threat ISIL poses to Iraq and its citizens and the clear legal basis that this provides for action in Iraq; notes that this motion does not endorse UK air strikes in Syria as part of this campaign and any proposal to do so would be subject to a separate vote in Parliament; accordingly supports Her Majesty’s Government, working with allies, in supporting the Government of Iraq in protecting civilians and restoring its territorial integrity, including the use of UK air strikes to support Iraqi, including Kurdish, security forces’ efforts against ISIL in Iraq; notes that Her Majesty’s Government will not deploy UK troops in ground combat operations; and offers its wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty’s armed forces.”

Naturally, my postbag and email inbox were inundated with the views of local people. Some were for military intervention, some were against.

The night before the debate, having considered the matter, I was pretty sure I would be voting ‘no’. I wasn’t sure what the Royal Air Force would achieve in dropping more bombs in Iraq.

I went to London to listen to the debate, hear the arguments and seek advice on specific points.

I met the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright who explained that this was very limited action in response to a letter from the Iraqi Government asking us to use six RAF Tornado Jets to contain the advance of ISIL. He made the point that the Iraqi Government had stated specifically that it did not want any UK combat troops on the ground.

It is the request from the Iraqi Government which particularly changed my view on this matter.  The Attorney General’s assurance that this request makes the use of our forces legal on this occasion was an important factor.

I also spoke to Rory Stewart, Chair of the Defence Select Committee, who had just returned from Iraq where he had witnessed the situation at first-hand.  Rory was sure that the most helpful thing we could do was to use our aircraft and surveillance drones to repel the advance of ISIL in Iraq. He confirmed that at that time ISIL was within 10 miles of Baghdad.

He also described the appalling situation of 400,000 refugees who, in the face of the ISIL advance, found themselves as sitting targets. Strategic use of RAF aircraft, within the efforts of the other 59 countries involved, could provide much needed cover for local forces to regroup and redeploy in the face of what had proven to be very hostile attacks.

I am very much aware that the 2003 invasion of Iraq – action I strongly opposed – resulted in public aversion to military intervention. However, that and previous invasions left Iraq with many problems and I feel we have some responsibility to help the Iraqi Government regain some stability.

Having heard all the arguments I felt that I should, on this occasion, support the motion.

My strong view on this conflict is that it is in the Middle East and primarily, it should be addressed by Middle Eastern Governments. I think we should use diplomatic channels to apply more pressure to other countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia – which has an extensive military force at its disposal – so that each might take a more prominent role in challenging ISIL.

Whenever there is war, a peace always needs to be negotiated in order to bring hostilities to an end. However, it does appear that in the case of ISIL it is unlikely that its membership will negotiate with anyone.

I recognise there are contradictions in that one year ago, Parliament voted not to attack President Assad’s brutal regime in Syria but Syria is equally involved in this conflict. I am however sure that MPs will be returning to this appalling situation and I shall consider the arguments carefully before any further decision.

Tessa Munt

8th October 2014

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