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Iraq: Mosul

Volume 754: debated on Tuesday 17 June 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the situation in the city of Mosul following its capture by Islamic militant members of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS); and of the safety of those who have fled the city.

My Lords, the city of Mosul was attacked by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other armed groups, and is no longer under the control of the Iraqi authorities. Fighting continues between these groups and the Iraqi security forces across parts of northern and western Iraq. Around 500,000 persons are reported displaced. The UK has announced £3 million of assistance to support immediate humanitarian needs.

My Lords, in thanking the Minister for her sympathetic reply, perhaps I might ask for her assessment of reports of the ruthlessness of atrocities, including beheadings and crucifixions perpetrated by ISIS against Christians and Muslims, which have caused the estimated hundreds of thousands of panic-stricken civilians to flee from the cities of Mosul and Tikrit to the rural Nineveh Plain and to the border crossings with Kurdistan, which are already jammed with cars trying to flee. What are Her Majesty’s Government able to do to help to provide protection for those civilians stranded in those places and also to ensure that the humanitarian assistance reaches all those in need?

My Lords, we have had reports of truly horrendous atrocities that are being committed on the ground. Some of them have been verified and some not. Our embassy is working with the Iraqi human rights commission to get a better assessment, but we have all seen the media reports. There is some suggestion that some of those images may be from Syria where, of course, we are aware that ISIL has been operating and has committed similar atrocities. We can all judge how extreme and appalling this group is from the mere fact that in 2013 even al-Qaeda distanced itself from ISIL.

Does my noble friend agree that whatever the outcome of all this turmoil in terms of changed boundaries and so on, it is absolutely the priority—imperative—to get a united front by all the powers in the region against this butchery and against the killing and bloodshed that is going on, regardless of whether they have Sunni or Shia affiliations? Does she agree that our country is rather well placed because of our skill and experience? We do not want to be involved militarily, but we are well placed to bring about and help this co-operation and halt all the horror.

My noble friend is right; the region has to step up and take responsibility, but ultimately this matter has to be led by the Iraqi Government. One of the first things we have been asking for is for a Government to be formed after the elections that took place at the end of April. It is important that that Government is inclusive. Much of what we see in terms of tensions between communities is because communities within Iraq feel excluded from the decision-making process. Of course, countries in the region have an incredibly important role to play. It is also important to distinguish between the fact that, of course, there is a Sunni-Shia dimension to these disturbances, but not all aspects of the Sunni community support ISIL.

My Lords, President Obama has decided to put American troops on the ground in order to protect American citizens and in particular the American embassy. Can the Minister tell us what steps the Foreign Secretary—or indeed the Prime Minister—is proposing to take in order to protect British citizens in Iraq and indeed our embassy?

This is an incredibly important matter and it is something we keep under review. Our travel advice reflects the reviews as they take place. The noble Baroness will also be aware that whereas we have several hundred embassy staff in Iraq—our main embassy is in Baghdad and of course we have one in the Kurdistan Regional Government area—the US has thousands of staff in Iraq, including, of course, in Basra.

Is the Minister aware that the road between Mosul and Baghdad is fully occupied—fully controlled—by al-Qaeda and ISIS forces? Is she also aware that Abu Ghraib, which is only five kilometres from Baghdad airport, is also occupied by AQ and ISIS, and that all the KRG border is now controlled by the Peshmerga, who are, in some instances, only a few metres away from ISIS and AQ forces? With this situation, how confident is the Minister that the Iraqi Government will be able to reassert and maintain the integrity of the Federal Republic of Iraq without very serious support, not just from the region but from the wider world?

First, I assure my noble friend and the House that Baghdad is under the control of the Iraqi Government. Of course, there are cities in the north and the west that have been occupied by ISIS. I can only give the assurances that the Iraqi Government have given us. Noble Lords will be aware that we receive regular updates from Iraq, and it clearly appears that at the moment ISIS is making advances. But it is for the Iraqi armed forces to fight back, and we will provide the support that is necessary.

My Lords, given that minority communities are facing an existential crisis that threatens their very survival, can the Minister tell us what information the Government have about the sources of funding and finance that have allowed ISIS to build up such an amazing military capability, and will she share that information with the House?

I am not sure about any direct funding. I am not sure whether we have that information or whether it is something that I could talk about here at the Dispatch Box. The noble Lord will have seen reports, as will other Members of the House, of the amount of money and gold that was in the vaults of the banks that were subsequently taken over by these extremist groups. That in itself is a worrying aspect of the finance that they now hold.

My Lords, Ban Ki-moon was surely right when he said earlier today:

“There is a real risk of further sectarian violence on a massive scale, within Iraq and beyond its borders”.

Of course, that is an appalling enough prospect, but the humanitarian crisis that will undoubtedly follow will require additional humanitarian support. Can the Minister confirm that any request made to the United Kingdom will be considered and acted on properly?

I can, my Lords. One of the great achievements of this Government is their commitment to international development, which includes humanitarian work. I can confirm that a team from the Department for International Development arrived in the north of Iraq on 12 June to assess the situation, and on 14 June the International Development Secretary announced the £3 million emergency humanitarian assistance to which I referred in my initial Answer. That is something that we will keep under review. My right honourable friend the International Development Secretary updated Cabinet colleagues about that earlier today: it is a matter that she keeps under constant review.