Mount Sinjar crisis: pressure on Cameron to recall parliament

Many MPs who voted against military action in Syria now want Britain to join America in tackling IS

David Cameron
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood - WPA Pool / Getty Images)

The former head of the British Army, Lord Dannatt, is leading the charge for a recall of Parliament and a fresh vote to approve UK military action against the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq.

Dannatt said on Radio 4's Today programme that the UK had "some culpability" for the breakdown of Iraq and had a duty to support the US in military action, including air strikes, and he was not ruling out sending British troops back into Iraq. "We would need some people on the ground to direct the air power accurately," he said.

The Times is reporting that Tory MPs are putting pressure on David Cameron to end his summer holiday and seek a fresh mandate from Parliament for military action for the first time since MPs gave their historic 'No' to air strikes in Syria.

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But it is not just Tory MPs and armchair generals who are seeking military action to protect Kurds, Christians, Yazidis and Iraqi Muslims who don't fit in with the IS vision of a Sunni caliphate. Labour MPs led by Tom Watson and Mike Gapes are also calling for Parliament to be recalled.

Watson blogged on the Labour website Labourlist that Parliament was probably right to veto UK military action in Syria last year but added: "We cannot abandon Iraq to the black flag of Isis." He said Cameron "must ask Parliament again for its sovereign view. Because at stake are hundreds of thousands of lives now and Britain's role in the world for decades to come."

Gapes, a former chairman of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, is reported on the BBC saying: "The Prime Minister must 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."

Many MPs are saying they would not support the UK putting "boots on the ground" but Dannatt, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, went further than he did this morning.

"In 1991," he wrote, "when Saddam began to put pressure on the Kurds, they fled to the mountains in northern Iraq. With a potential genocide looming, we deployed 3 Commando Brigade on the ground and established a safe area.

"If we were prepared to go so far then, surely it is even more compelling to do so now, in alliance with the Americans?"

It is unlikely many MPs would advocate sending in a brigade of commandos but it is almost certain that the mood has changed dramatically since the now famous vote on Syria last August. That was taken by some commentators as a signal that Britain had lost its place in the world, that it had gone in for a period of nervous introspection about its imperial past and no longer had the stomach to fight for what it believes in.

As a result, some MPs who voted 'No' that day are now ready to give Cameron a fresh mandate for military action. This time, instead of being asked to support a rag-bag of guerrilla fighters in built-up areas, the target is an army. It is equipped with US-supplied heavy weapons seized from the Iraqi army. They include bullet-proof Humvees and, it is claimed, US tanks.

At the very least, the UK will have to lift its arms ban on supplying heavy weapons to the Kurds to fight IS on the ground. To do that, Parliament will need to be recalled. Unless Cameron agrees, it will be another month before Parliament can have a voice and give UK forces the green light to join US forces in rolling back the IS army.

It will be a hassle for Dave and his wife and his kids having to break short his holiday in Portugal. But he can tell them it is far worse for the families stuck on Mount Sinjar.

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