Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday opened the debate in the British House of Commons on a resolution calling for the United Kingdom to render military assistance in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq.
Britain may send its fighter planes to join the US-led alliance of forces in the region within 24 hours of the resolution being passed in Parliament.
Mr. Cameron warned that it could take years to defeat the “psychopathic forces” that the ISIL represent. Although the motion states that British airstrikes would be confined to Iraq and would not include Syria, and further that the U.K. would not send in ground troops to assist the Iraqi forces, Mr. Cameron hinted that these priorities could change if the situation changed.
In the future, if Britain was called upon to respond to a “humanitarian catastrophe”, the Prime Minister said he would extend the military campaign even before seeking Parliament’s approval.
He also said that the resolution had left Syria out because of Labour Party concerns, but that he himself was clear that “ISIL needs to be destroyed in Syria as well as Iraq.”
The shadow of Britain’s misadventure of 2003, when the Tony Blair government joined the war against Iraq and emerged badly singed, hung over the debate with several members drawing attention to its lessons.
Mr. Cameron argued that unlike in 2003, in this case intervention is “legal,” citing as proof the specific request from the Iraq government for armed intervention.
The ISIL threat, he said, is “not the stuff of fantasy” but represents a “direct threat” to the safety and security of the U.K. As an organisation it was different from earlier jihadist forces, in respect of their brutality towards those who did not share their ideology, and their possession of “billions of dollars,” received from illegal oil sales to the Syrian government.
“Protecting the streets of Britain should not be subcontracted by us to others,” he said.
The military solution was the only way of “degrading” the ISIL, although the actual ground battles must be fought by Iraqi soldiers. “Patience and persistence and not shock and awe,” will mark this intervention, he said.
Labour leader Ed Miliband whole-heartedly supported the motion arguing that military intervention in this case fulfilled the criteria of being legal, just, proportional, and a “last resort” option.
Members of Parliament across the political divide raised several questions – of “mission creep”, on whether the military strategy had clear goals, and on why the instruments of diplomacy and politics were playing no role in the West’s strategy. A Labour party member argued that instead of sending six fighter jets, Britain would do better by sending 60 air sorties with humanitarian equipment to the victims of ISIL.
George Galloway, the plain speaking Respect Party member from Bradford, who opposed the motion, accused the Members of Parliament of “moving around fictional armies in the region.”
The Free Syrian army, he argued, is a “fiction” as the millions of dollars they received in arms and equipment was taken from them by the al-Qaeda, now mutated into ISIL. Even the ISIL he argued is an “imaginary army” with no bases. “Do the math,” he thundered. There are 10-20,000 of them in a country the size of Britain. “They don’t live as a concentrated army in bases,” he said, but control the region through an acquiescing population fed up with their own government and Western occupation. “This is the water in which they [ISIL] swim.”