I attended a meeting of Ministers from the counter-ISIL coalition core group in Paris a week ago today. We discussed recent events in Iraq and Syria and progress in pushing back ISIL in Iraq since last summer. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also discussed ISIL with world leaders during the G7 summit and announced plans for increased UK support to Iraq.
So far, 700 British citizens have travelled to Syria and Iraq, and some to Yemen, in order to fight for ISIL and al-Qaeda in the south Arabian peninsula. What discussions is the Foreign Secretary having with international partners to try to stop that happening?
That is one of the strands of work that the counter-ISIL coalition is focused on. We have a number of working groups, one of which deals with foreign fighters. We have made considerable progress, particularly with our Turkish colleagues, in ensuring that we do everything possible to identify and intercept those seeking to reach Syria through Turkey. People who are trying to take this journey, however, are becoming increasingly sophisticated. I have seen reports recently of journeys that are routed via Canada to get to Turkey and then into Syria, rather than going directly from the UK. It is, therefore, a continuing struggle.
The US President says that the counter-ISIL strategy needs further development; the Sunni Speaker of Parliament said during a US visit that they need a Sunni national guard; and, of course, the Kurds are challenged to fight ISIL over a 1,000 km border. Is my right hon. Friend confident that we have enough resources on the ground and that our embassy is well enough resourced to be able to handle those challenges and to make sure that the strategy is developed and put in place?
I can tell my hon. Friend that we have surged our political support to our embassy in Baghdad and our consulate general in Irbil, with a number of additional Foreign Office personnel being moved out there. He is absolutely right to say, however, that there is a need for a political initiative to address the alienation of the Sunni community. That involves the creation of a national guard and a repeal of the de-Ba’athification laws, in order to allow Sunnis to participate fully in the Iraqi state.
The Prime Minister has announced that an additional 125 British troops will be deployed to assist with counter-IED training and logistics in Iraq, but President Obama has said that US personnel sometimes have more training capacity than there are recruits for that training. Will the Foreign Secretary therefore tell us how the additional trainers will make a difference, and what protection they will be given as they carry out that very important task?
Yes; the hon. Lady makes an important point. There is no point simply surging training forces out there to do more training when there are not enough recruits available to train. What we have always said is that we will reinforce our support where there is something specific we can do and where we can bring some value to the table. Sadly, because of our experience in Afghanistan and in the previous Iraq campaign, counter-IED training is a British niche capability, and that is what our troops will be doing. It is a much-needed requirement and we are glad to be able to provide it. In terms of protection, the British forces deployed to Iraq proper will be within US perimeters and protected by US forces.