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ISIL (Iraqi Forces)

Volume 590: debated on Monday 12 January 2015

We are making a major contribution to the coalition, having deployed sophisticated surveillance, strike and transport aircraft to the region. As of yesterday, we have carried out 99 air strikes in Iraq, second only to the United States. We have also provided training and equipment to Kurdish forces, including infantry, combat first aid, sharpshooting and counter-IED training.

Given reports at the weekend that ISIL fighters killed another 24 people in the security forces in northern Iraq, will the Secretary of State provide more details of the equipment that his Department might be supplying to Iraqi forces to help them counter this threat?

Yes. The National Security Council has asked us to do further work to scope the additional assistance we can offer to the Iraqi military. We plan to gift counter-IED equipment to the Iraqi security forces in the near future, subject to the approval of this House. All our support is part of the developing coalition and Iraqi plan to ensure that Iraqi forces are coherently supported.

To what extent are British personnel in Iraq liaising with the Shi’a militias? Given the recent deaths in Iraq, apparently in action, of the Iranian General Taqavi, what assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the extent of the Iranian influence over those militias?

Our training has been focused in Kurdistan through the Ministry of Peshmerga, and our other embedded personnel work only with the security forces of the Government of Iraq, not with any of the Shi’a militia. Iranian influence over the Shi’a militia is well known, and Iran can certainly play a positive role in helping to bring about better government in Iraq.

In combating ISIL jihadists, our armed forces might be at greater threat in the UK than in Iraq. After last week’s atrocities, France has, I understand, allocated 10,000 troops for sensitive sites. What steps is my right hon. Friend considering armed forces in the UK should take for their own and our constituents’ safety?

We take our personnel—both military and civilian—extremely seriously. We have reviewed our protective security measures and the advice to personnel in the light of the recent tragic events in France. My hon. Friend will appreciate that, for obvious reasons, I cannot discuss details of the security arrangements that are in place.

Given that the Kurds still face attacks by ISIS forces using sophisticated captured American arms, is the Secretary of State satisfied that our allies have enough heavy weapons, including tanks and helicopters, to counter those attacks?

We are looking at the gaps in the capability of the Kurdish and Iraqi forces, and if we can help with additional equipment, we are ready to do so, and we have already played a very active part in transporting to those forces equipment that has been gifted or sold from other nations.

The House stands united with the people of France, and, indeed, with all who support the principles of freedom of speech, tolerance and democracy in the face of the barbarity that the world witnessed last week on the streets of Paris. This morning the Defence Secretary attended high-level meetings in Whitehall to discuss the United Kingdom’s response to those tragic events. Given that one of the terrorists said that he was acting on behalf of ISIL, will the right hon. Gentleman update the House on what further steps the Government are taking to combat this threat in Iraq and beyond?

I am grateful to the shadow Defence Secretary for, in particular, the tone that he has struck in the light of the tragic events in France. We all have sympathy with those involved.

I think that the hon. Gentleman and I are clear about the fact that if we are to reduce the threat from ISIL in France and the United Kingdom, ISIL must be defeated in both Iraq and Syria. This morning, under the Prime Minister’s direction, we again reviewed our standing preparations for a terrorist attack, including the number and readiness of troops available to assist the police, and we are keeping the security situation under continuous review.

I think that the whole House will be grateful to the Defence Secretary for his response. Does he agree that following those recent events the need to tackle the threat is even more urgent, and that we must work ever more closely with our allies in Europe—such as France—and with our partners in the region, including Turkey? Will he update us on the progress that has been made by United Kingdom forces in their crucial work of training Iraqi and peshmerga troops in Iraq to combat the ISIL threat there, and also, importantly, preventing future acts of terrorism here in the United Kingdom?

We are already co-operating closely with France in particular, and we have reinforced our offer of assistance to France over the last few days. If ISIL is to be defeated and the threat to our own country and other European countries reduced, we will of course depend on the co-operation of the entire international community, but especially on the co-operation of partners in the region. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the role that Turkey and other regional partners can play.

We have been training Iraqi and Kurdish forces, and are doing so at the moment. Training courses in Kurdistan are being managed and led by British troops, and I hope that they will help the peshmerga, in particular, in their fight against ISIL.

Setting aside the fact that there will be no foreign combat troops on the ground, will the Secretary of State tell us what is the difference between the 2007 strategy in Iraq and the strategy today? In particular, have we a new counter-insurgency doctrine, is there a new Sunni outreach strategy, and have we adopted a new approach to building the capacity of the Iraqi Government and army, or are we fighting the same target with the same strategy and fewer resources?

I can tell my hon. Friend—who, I know, brings a great deal of experience from Iraq to the House—that the biggest difference between now and 2007 is that we now have a genuinely inclusive Government in Iraq, who represent both Shia and Sunni, and, indeed, Kurdish elements in Iraq. The new Defence Minister, Minister Obeidi, is himself a Sunni. It is important for that Government to concentrate on precisely the kind of Sunni outreach that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, so that their forces can enjoy the support of the tribes in the Anbar region, where ground must be recaptured from ISIS.