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Volume 588: debated on Monday 24 November 2014

During my recent visits I met the Iraqi Prime Minister, Defence Minister and national security adviser, the President and Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Government, and my counterparts in the region, including those in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. I hope to meet the King and Crown Prince of Bahrain and the United States Defence Secretary at next week’s conference in Manama for further discussion of steps to counter ISIL.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that our partners in the middle east value the capability that the United Kingdom brings, and that we are making a substantial contribution to the coalition? What plans has he to do more in the fight against ISIL?

Our contribution to coalition activity so far has been second only to that of the United States, in surveillance, intelligence-gathering, strike missions, and the supply of arms and ammunition. We plan to provide further training and assistance—specifically, further training for the Kurdish peshmerga and the Iraqi armed forces—and to advise and assist the Iraqi armed forces through the secondment of further advisory personnel to command headquarters. We also plan to make a significant contribution to the training of moderate elements of the Syrian opposition.

21. How long does the Secretary of State expect the current action to last, and has he any plans to extend it? (906198)

I cannot put a time frame on the current action, although I think the United States Secretary of State considered that it would take years rather than months or weeks. The present position is that the advance of ISIL has been halted, but pushing ISIL back out of the territory that it has gained will obviously present a huge challenge to the Iraqi and Kurdish forces, supported by the coalition.

Given that British nationals are now known to be fighting with ISIL, with the Syrian army and with the Kurdish forces, what discussions has the Defence Secretary had with the Home Secretary to ensure that we have the legal instruments that will enable us to deal with those people appropriately on their return?

I know that the Home Secretary has been considering that very actively during the last few weeks, and will present further proposals to the House. It is very important for those who go to fight against the interests of this country by supporting ISIL to understand that they are fighting for an organisation that is proscribed, and that if they are detained when they return, they can be charged and prosecuted.

One of the reasons for the initial failure of the Iraqi army against ISIL was its inability to present itself as being part of the Iraqi nation as a whole, given that groups such as the Assyrian Christians and Kurds were excluded. Did the Secretary of State have any discussions about making the army much more inclusive, so that there can be a force that is united against ISIL and fighting on behalf of the whole of Iraq?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Front Bench. The point that he has made is perfectly fair. I continue to make clear to the Defence Minister and Prime Minister in Baghdad that they must have the support of all interests in Iraq. I think that the recent agreement between three of the tribes in Anbar province and the Iraqi army to fight ISIL together, and the growing rapprochement—the interim agreement—between the Kurdish Regional Government and the federal Government in Baghdad, are pointers to the growing inclusiveness of the Government, which must be demonstrated in action. The reforms that are being made to the army, including the dismissal of some corps commanders and the recruitment of a genuinely inclusive national guard, are hopeful signs for the future.