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Syria and Iraq: Daesh

Volume 760: debated on Thursday 19 March 2015

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the strategy of the United States-led coalition for clearing the Daesh out of the territories which they currently occupy in Syria and Iraq.

My Lords, we are part of a global coalition with more than 60 members committing to defeating ISIL. We support inclusive governance in Iraq and Syria, work to counter ISIL’s vile narrative, its access to finance and foreign fighters, and provide military support to Iraqi forces fighting ISIL. The UK also provides humanitarian assistance to those affected by ISIL’s brutality and will contribute to the Syrian opposition train and equip programme.

My Lords, the FCO website makes reference to a global strategy for combating the global threat of ISIL, which allegedly was agreed at a meeting in Paris on 15 September last year. However, the text of the agreement is not on the FCO website, and I cannot find it anywhere else using Google. Can the Government leave a parting message in Washington before next Thursday to say that we need a mechanism to co-ordinate military strategy among the armed forces of active coalition stakeholders and with the Syrian armed forces on retaking Raqqa?

My Lords, I can reassure my noble friend that there was a meeting at the beginning of this year in London at which the coalition of more than 60 countries against ISIL agreed that there should be a small working group. The strategy of the global work is now being refined into a practical system and we have agreed to the formation of five working groups: military operations, foreign fighters, counterfinance, stabilisation support, and countermessaging. The UK is represented on all groups and we are co-chairing the countermessaging group with the UAE and the US. I will be delighted to discuss the detail further with my noble friend, who is right to draw attention to the importance of activity around and in Raqqa by ISIL.

My Lords, the Question refers to the “United States-led coalition”, but does my noble friend agree that this is far more than just a western issue and that the great powers such as India and the People’s Republic of China have a major interest, as do all civilised countries, in containing this barbarian infection, which threatens them all? Does she further agree that nations such as Egypt are also closely involved? Does my noble friend therefore accept that the coalition we need to build effectively to contain this horror has to be global rather than purely western? If it is purely western, there will be bad reactions, which we will have to overcome.

I entirely agree with my noble friend. That is the very nature that underlines the formation of the five working groups, where non-western countries not only co-chair groups but are prominent members of them.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that finally to defeat Daesh—to take it out—we would have to have forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria, which I hope will be Iraqi, Kurdish and local forces? One can understand, militarily, how that can be done in Iraq, but going into Syria means that we would have to look at our relationship with Assad. Without stamping out Daesh on the ground in Syria, we will not achieve success.

My Lords, there are three points there. First, with regard to Iraq, it is clear that the Government of Iraq have said that they do not wish to have our forces on the ground in Iraq, but they welcome the use of surveillance and airstrikes. With regard to Syria, we are of course assisting the moderate opposition, but let us be clear about Assad’s record. He responded to peaceful protests with violence, used chemical weapons against his own people, and continues to conduct air attacks on defenceless civilians. We must not fall into the trap of thinking and accepting what Assad wants to believe—that he is the only alternative to extremists and terrorists. He is not.

My Lords, do the Government have a cross-government agreement on how they refer to Daesh? If they do not, would they consider that? I suggest that they seriously consider using the word “Daesh”.

I sympathise entirely with my noble friend. I am aware from when I talk to my Foreign Minister counterparts throughout the region that they find it puzzling that in this country the media and therefore the Government continue to use the term “ISIL”. They prefer “Daesh”, and I understand the significance of that. However, at the moment we find that if we talk about Daesh the media become puzzled. I take my noble friend’s point, and we will indeed consider how we can discuss that further.

My Lords, even if the current operations to clear Daesh prove successful, the ancient religious and ethnic minority communities in Iraq have an uncertain future. Does the Minister agree with the statement recently submitted by the Holy See to the United Nations Human Rights Council? It said that a future without these communities in Iraq and the Middle East risks,

“new forms of violence, exclusion, and the absence of peace and development”.

Therefore, what steps are being taken to secure the future of those communities, and in particular their human right to religious freedom?

I can respond first by saying that the motion before the Human Rights Council was presented by the Vatican jointly with Russia. We are a signatory to that and fully support it. The work that we are doing with regard to humanitarian aid and our work with the International Committee of the Red Cross is fully aimed at supporting all minorities. The Christian church is clearly an important part of that. I pay tribute to those who use the £800 million of aid we provide in Syria to provide support to keep communities safe in the future and to keep them able to stay there. But it is bleak at present.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that whatever happens after ISIL is defeated in Iraq—let us hope that it is soon—it will be for the Government of Iraq to take the lead on the necessary measures? Does she agree—I am sure that she will—that those measures should or might include more power sharing, encourage tolerance, and work towards a free, open and unsectarian society?

I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Bach. Those views underpinned all the work I did when I was at the Human Rights Council in having bilaterals with other Ministers. I am sure that the Government of Iraq will be pleased to hear his comments and my support for them.