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Volume 593: debated on Monday 23 February 2015

We are making a major contribution to the coalition. We are conducting infantry training and have trained more than 1,000 Iraqis so far. We are leading on counter-improvised explosive device training and, subject to parliamentary approval, will gift 1,000 hand-held metal detectors. As of Sunday, we have conducted 152 air strikes in Iraq and deployed a range of aircraft to the region, including surveillance aircraft.

One of the legacies of our time in Afghanistan is our expertise in tackling IEDs. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House when Britain will begin training Iraqi forces in this capability and what equipment—for example, electronic IED counter-measures such as those built by Selex ES in Basildon—will be made available so that they can better tackle ISIL?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question and can tell him that the counter-IED training will begin early next month. UK personnel are already engaged in Baghdad in course design at the coalition headquarters. In conjunction with the metal detector equipment we intend to supply, the training will allow about six Iraqi battalions to have an improved counter-IED capability, as well as creating smaller specialist counter-IED teams.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure me and many constituents who have written to me in the past few months that the Government are doing all they can to support and protect minority groups, such as Yazidi Christians, especially women, who face unimaginable dangers from ISIL brutality?

Yazidi Christians, particularly women, have suffered more than most at the hands of ISIL. They are not alone. ISIL is a terrorist organisation that brutally beheads and crucifies people, slaughters children, sells women as slaves and has systematically used rape as a weapon. We flew supplies and surveillance missions last year to help Yazidi refugees on Sinjar mountain. Since beginning air strikes last September, we have, with other coalition partners, hit ISIL positions that have threatened Yazidi refugees and have assisted the Kurdish peshmerga in pushing back and reclaiming territory from ISIL, which, in turn, helps the Yazidi population.

Does the Secretary of State think that it is acceptable that none of the service chiefs who gave evidence to the Defence Committee as part of its recent inquiry was willing or able to articulate the UK’s objective or strategic plan in Iraq? What exactly is our plan?

Our plan in Iraq is very simple: first, to disrupt threats to the UK mainland and to our interests overseas; secondly, as part of an international coalition, to defeat ISIL, including discrediting its violent ideology; and, thirdly, to mitigate the impact of ISIL and other violent extremist groups on the stability of the whole region.

In Iraq, the Brimstone missile provides the UK with a unique capability that minimises collateral damage. What measures are being taken to integrate it with the Typhoon system?

Let me pay to tribute to the important work being done at AWE sites in my hon. Friend’s constituency and elsewhere in Berkshire and to the highly skilled personnel working there. I will of course look at his point about integration. We are accelerating the integration of those weapons with Typhoon, which will improve its attractiveness as an export and pick up on some of the lessons we have learnt from the campaign in Iraq.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that the Kurds, who have lost 1,000 peshmerga, are key to isolating and defeating ISIS but are seriously short of the heavy weapons they urgently need. Will he talk with the Kurdistan Regional Government about how the UK can do much more to help them, as one of our closest and most reliable allies?

I have met the Kurdish Regional Government and we continue to be in touch with them. We have already gifted heavy machine guns, nearly 500,000 rounds of ammunition and some 49 tonnes of non-lethal equipment. We have also helped transport to the Kurdish region around 300 tonnes of weapons, equipment and ammunition from other eastern European nations, because they tend to use former Soviet equipment. I hope that underlines the amount of help we are giving to the peshmerga, but it is important that we also help the reconstitution of the Iraqi army further south.

What stance does the Secretary of State take in responding to requests from other Governments in the region seeking military assistance to take on ISIL and its affiliates in the way the Iraqi Government did?

This is an international coalition, with between 40 and 50 countries involved, and we are one of the 16 that are involved in the air strikes. Indeed, we have so far recorded the second highest number of air strikes—second only to the United States. However, countries in the region and internationally are all helping in different ways—for example, with logistics or by providing bases. The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to continue to reassure other countries in the region that we are committed to their security. That is why we signed the recent naval base agreement in Bahrain and why, for example, I talked this morning with His Excellency the Qatari Defence Minister.

The Secretary of State is of course aware that ISIL is operating not only in Iraq, but in Syria and, unfortunately, now in Libya. Will he clarify what role the UK and its armed forces are playing in those theatres?

The House has not given its authority for military operations to be conducted in Syria at the moment. However, we are preparing plans to help train moderate Syrian opposition forces outside Syria, and we are now drawing up plans to participate in that training at a number of sites outside Syria. The situation in Libya is equally disturbing. It now looks as though ISIL has several footholds along the Libyan seaboard, so we are also considering what further role we might play there.

The Kurdish peshmerga have indeed done a magnificent job in halting Daesh and regaining some ground from it. I am proud that we have given them 40 heavy machine guns and that we have 46 members of 2nd Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment training them in Sulaymaniyah, but I have heard that we are reducing the amount of support we are actually giving them. Will the Secretary of State please outline in detail what extra help we can give the peshmerga forces in Kurdistan?

We are not reducing our effort; on the contrary, we have the RAF flying Tornadoes virtually day and night—a huge effort—from Cyprus. We have nearly 600 service personnel involved in this battle against ISIL, including more than 140 personnel in Iraq. It is important to help the peshmerga, but it is also important to help the reconstituted Iraqi army.

What are the Government doing to identify ISIL’s funding sources, and have they taken any action, such as sanctions, against those they have identified?

The hon. Lady is right that ISIL needs to be defeated not just militarily, but diplomatically and politically with all the instruments at our command, and cutting off its financial sources of support is extremely important. We are working with our international partners to ensure that those financing streams can be cut off, and that proper sanctions can be applied where we can identify exactly where the funding is coming from.