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Syria and Iraq: ISIS

Volume 767: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what military action the United Kingdom is undertaking against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

My Lords, UK forces are striking Daesh targets in Iraq and Syria, including command and control facilities, lines of communication, military equipment and defensive positions. We are also providing intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance to support coalition operations in both Syria and Iraq. UK military personnel are providing specialist training for Iraqi security forces, including Kurdish Peshmerga.

My Lords, given that the war has already lasted five years, does my noble friend recognise that while bombing is important, it will never defeat ISIS unless there is a strong army on the ground? Will he therefore re-read the speeches made last Wednesday by the noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond, Lord Ashdown, Lord Owen and Lord Dannatt—and possibly my own—and recognise that the only hope of defeating ISIS is urgently to find a way to deploy the army of Assad and his allies? Otherwise, ISIS will survive and cause mayhem in the rest of the world.

My Lords, it may encourage my noble friend to know that I have re-read the debate held last week and I fully agree that Daesh has to be defeated on the ground. The most likely way to defeat Daesh on the ground is to bring about an end to the Syrian civil war, which would allow those keen to support a unified, inclusive and peaceful Syria to unite against Daesh. That could include Syrian moderate opposition forces, Syrian Kurds, or an army of internationally supported Syrian government forces. But we believe that such unity will come about only once Bashar al-Assad leaves the scene.

My Lords, when the Minister re-read the debate held last Wednesday, he may have noted that I suggested that if our Tornados and Typhoons are sent into action without adequate co-ordination and consultation, there might be a serious risk of collision with the Russian and Syrian forces. Can he tell the House what clearance has to be sought from what I understand is the joint flight clearance centre in Damascus, and how much co-ordination is there with the Syrian authorities before military action is taken?

My Lords, all UK and coalition missions are co-ordinated by the US-led Combined Air and Space Operations Centre in Qatar. The coalition has implemented safe separation measures for aircraft operating in Syria which reflect the provisions of the United States/Russia memorandum of understanding to prevent flight safety incidents over Syria. Those measures are kept under constant review, including in the light of the Russian jet incident with Turkey. Our own aircraft operate over Syria as part of the coalition campaign and are covered by those measures.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that in 2008, the only way we stopped the uprising in Iraq and destroyed al-Qaeda there was when General Petraeus got the Sunni tribes fully on side to turn against it. We did that by bribing them and talking to them. Are we doing that now to ensure that they turn against IS, because up until now they have felt that IS is better for them than the Government in Baghdad?

My Lords, there is no doubt that the Kurds will need to be part of a long-term solution. I believe that they must play an important role in a political settlement for Syria. As part of that, they must recognise the importance of Syria’s territorial integrity and the parameters set out in the Geneva communiqué. However, I recognise the force of what the noble Lord has said about the lessons learnt in Iraq, and I am sure those lessons will not be lost as we go forward.

My Lords, although this Question is about Syria and Iraq, has my noble friend noticed that Daesh is forming very strong centres in Sirte and Derna in Libya, and elsewhere in the Maghreb? What attention are we going to pay to those areas, which may well turn out to be even more important than Raqqa as centres of operation for Daesh?

My Lords, as my noble friend will be aware, we are veering slightly off Iraq and Syria, but I can tell him that the presence of Daesh in Libya is causing us considerable concern and is the focus of attention across the coalition. Beyond that, I cannot say more at this stage.

My Lords, it would help if we could restrict the flow of ammunition to Daesh. We know that it is using ammunition produced by our allies and coalition partners. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the supply chain is being broken?

A number of measures are being taken to ensure that smuggling of equipment and ammunition is blocked. The Syrian moderate opposition forces have been quite successful in blocking those routes, particularly between Turkey and Syria. More widely, there is an international effort to close down the sources of finance that Daesh has as its disposal. A lot of that work, I am proud to say, is being led by the United Kingdom.

My Lords, it is right to label ISIL as evil and murderous, because it is those things. But are we asking why it is? What research and studies are we undertaking to get into the mind of ISIL, so that we better understand its motives, and the many structures and layers of operation that enable it to recruit in countries as varied and diverse as Afghanistan and Britain, and to produce a blueprint to create a state? If we are to help rid the world of this ideology, we need first of all to know our enemy as well as he knows himself.

The noble Lord is absolutely right. The UK is leading international efforts to counter Daesh’s poisonous ideology. Our work with the internet industry, for example, has helped to stop the proliferation of Daesh propaganda. We announced at the UN General Assembly in September that the UK would host a new coalition communications cell. That cell helps countries that have previously lacked the means or knowledge necessary to deliver effective communication interventions against Daesh to do so. It is already helping to drive the coalition strategic communications to counter Daesh’s extremism and ensure, essentially, that no media space is left uncontested.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we cannot destroy a negative ideology based on a harsh interpretation of medieval Islam by bombs and bullets alone? Is the Minister aware that the Muslim community and Muslim leaders have condemned Daesh, and will the Government work with them to ensure that their message of condemnation is carried to every mosque in the country—preferably in English, which is the language young Muslims best understand?

My Lords, this is a central theme of the Government’s counterextremism strategy, about which I spoke in last week’s debate. I fully agree with the noble Lord that to disrupt and defeat Daesh and its ideology requires more than just military action. It requires the disruption of its ideology in the ways that I described, and discrediting it across the world in the way the noble Lord indicated.