THE LEVANT – David Cameron is under pressure to recall parliament amid growing unrest at the humanitarian crisis engulfing Iraq.
With more reports of minority Christians and Yazidis being slaughtered by Islamic State extremists in the north of the country, Tory and Labour figures have insisted the Commons needs to debate possible military action.
The former head of the army, Lord Dannatt, told Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday that he backed a recall, insisting Britain was “watching in horror” as atrocities were committed. “In the short time we have a real emergency. There needs to be military support very quickly.
“There need to be continuing air strikes well targeted, and we may need to put some people on the ground to direct that quite accurately. It is difficult for us to say that this is not our problem. We have to look at ourselves and say, ‘do we do nothing in the face of a possible genocide?'”
Conor Burns, the Tory MP for Bournemouth South, said the government’s response so far, of ruling out military intervention and airdropping supplies, was not strong enough. “I think the US and UK should be involved in air strikes.
“I am not by any means advocating a ground war but I think we should put our special forces in there. I think we should be answering positively requests from the Kurds to arm them. I think we should be looking at asylum.”
Burns said he did not know whether the Commons would support military action, but it was worth trying – adding that some Conservative colleagues who opposed intervention in Syria last August took a different position this time. “Some of this was created by us in the first place, and I do not think it is right just to say we cannot do this or public opinion doesn’t support it.
“I think the Syria thing and this are very different. If parliament decides we do not want to have anything to do with that, then let them say so.”
In a letter to Cameron, the Tory MPs Nick de Bois and David Burrowes joined the requests for a recall of Parliament. They said the persecution in Iraq imposed “a moral obligation and a duty to our constituents to reconvene so that the escalating crisis can be properly debated. It is vital that the House of Commons debate an appropriate response to this emergency.
“Whilst the government is rightly engaged in a massive humanitarian effort, we believe that the lack of a co-ordinated international response and the unilateral military intervention of the US demand the urgent attention of parliamentarians at this time.” An emergency session would also allow discussion of developments in Gaza, they said.
A No 10 source indicated there were no plans for the prime minister to cut short his family break in Portugal, from which he is due back later this week.
“Our focus is very much on the humanitarian side. It’s about meeting a massive need to get help though and that’s what we are doing,” the source said.
Cameron is “being kept fully informed and is in close contact with the foreign secretary and the defence secretary”.
“He had talks with President Obama over the weekend and is constantly updated on the situation on the ground.”
Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary is chairing a further meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee to discuss the crisis in Iraq at 11am, No 10 said.
Mike Gapes, the Labour MP for Ilford South and former chair of the foreign affairs select committee, has also demanded a recall of parliament so that military action can be authorised to aid minorities under threat. “The prime minister may feel unable to act now following his defeat and mishandling of the Syria debate last August. He should get over it and urgently recall parliament,” he wrote in an article for the New Statesman.
“I hope we can then, with opposition support, achieve a massive vote for UK military intervention alongside our US and Nato partners to defend and protect our democratic and secular Kurdish friends and to stop the genocide of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities by Isis in Iraq and Syria.”
Sources close to the committee said that he is not the only member likely to support military action. “There is a demand from the public to act in this particular case,” the source said.
Last August, Cameron recalled MPs from their summer break early to vote on whether the UK should join in US-led strikes on Syria, if they went ahead. The PM was forced to water down the government’s motion after Labour refused to back it.
On Sunday, No 10 announced that more UK advisers were being sent to the under-threat city of Irbil to help deal with the developing crisis. The US has been carrying out air strikes to protect the area, which is a Kurdish stronghold and major centre for the country’s oil trade.
After a meeting on Sunday of the government’s Cobra emergency committee, attended by officials from across Whitehall and agencies, a No 10 spokesman said: “The humanitarian situation remains deeply worrying and consequently this continues to be our priority.
“Hundreds of thousands of people are displaced across the region and in need of aid supplies. And thousands are still trapped on Mount Sinjar, although it is understood that some may have escaped off the mountain to the north. The first UK aid drop took place over Mount Sinjar last night, with the RAF delivering bundles that included 1,200 reusable water containers providing 6,000 litres in total and 240 solar lanterns that can also be used to recharge mobile phones.”
The government announced an £8m emergency package last week, £3m of which will go to charities and NGOs already on the ground and helping displaced people in northern Iraq, and £2.5m to the Red Cross. Cameron and Barack Obama discussed the airdrops in a phone call on Saturday, but admitted that a long-term solution would be needed to quell the Isis advance.