Iraqi troops chant slogans against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in Baghdad today. Photo: AFP
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UK failure to intervene in Syria has emboldened Iraqi insurgents, says Foreign Affairs Committee chair

Senior MP Sir Richard Ottaway speaks out on Iraq.

Sir Richard Ottaway, the Conservative chair of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, has said that Britain's failure to intervene in the Syrian civil war last year has emboldened the Sunni insurgents now storming Iraq.

Speaking to me earlier today, Sir Richard said: "I think we're seeing pigeons coming home to roost in Iraq. Not with reference to as far back as 2003 perhaps, but the vote in Parliament last August not to intervene in Syria has given confidence to the troublemakers in the region."

He added: "It has left a power vacuum, which doesn't ever remain open for long - people step into it. We're now seeing the geopolitical consequences of our vote last year. It was a mistake then, it's a mistake now."

The robust comments by the respected parliamentary committee chair stand in contrast to the response from the government, which has been criticised as weak.

The Prime Minister was censured for dining in a celebrity hotspot last night while the Iraqi crisis worsened, and the House of Commons was chastened following the failure of a single MP to raise the insurgency during Prime Minister's Questions yesterday noon.

Earlier today David Cameron spoke with Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen about the crisis. Downing Street immediately stressed that the conversation did not relate to any possible Nato deployment of military resources, however, which has been ruled out.

Foreign Secretary William Hague has today urged Iraqi leaders from all communities to unite in responding to the "brutal aggression against their country". He also announced earlier: "We will continue to work urgently within the UN Security Council to help concert the wider international response".

In the US "all options" remain under consideration, including a military response to combat the rebels. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in London for a conference on ending sexual violence in warzones, has indicated that President Barack Obama will make "timely decisions".

In the meantime the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, as the rebels sweep south towards Baghdad, having claimed two further towns in Diyala province. This afternoon Iraq's most senior cleric issued a call to arms against the Sunni insurgents, threatening worse violence.

While the West has been cautious in its response, Shia-majority Iran has lost no time offering support to its neighbour against the Sunni insurgency, the extension of which could threaten Iran's own the stability and security. Earlier today Iranian President Hassan Rouhani telephoned Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to promise his nation’s support to the Shia-dominated Iraqi government.

When even the respected US journal Foreign Policy has called on readers to "step back from the breathless news for a second”, adding “it might be prudent to let the situation develop for a week or so”, developments on the ground in Iraq look in danger of overtaking the West.

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.


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Michael Gove definitely didn't betray anyone, says Michael Gove

What's a disagreement among friends?

Michael Gove is certainly not a traitor and he thinks Theresa May is absolutely the best leader of the Conservative party.

That's according to the cast out Brexiteer, who told the BBC's World At One life on the back benches has given him the opportunity to reflect on his mistakes. 

He described Boris Johnson, his one-time Leave ally before he decided to run against him for leader, as "phenomenally talented". 

Asked whether he had betrayed Johnson with his surprise leadership bid, Gove protested: "I wouldn't say I stabbed him in the back."

Instead, "while I intially thought Boris was the right person to be Prime Minister", he later came to the conclusion "he wasn't the right person to be Prime Minister at that point".

As for campaigning against the then-PM David Cameron, he declared: "I absolutely reject the idea of betrayal." Instead, it was a "disagreement" among friends: "Disagreement among friends is always painful."

Gove, who up to July had been a government minister since 2010, also found time to praise the person in charge of hiring government ministers, Theresa May. 

He said: "With the benefit of hindsight and the opportunity to spend some time on the backbenches reflecting on some of the mistakes I've made and some of the judgements I've made, I actually think that Theresa is the right leader at the right time. 

"I think that someone who took the position she did during the referendum is very well placed both to unite the party and lead these negotiations effectively."

Gove, who told The Times he was shocked when Cameron resigned after the Brexit vote, had backed Johnson for leader.

However, at the last minute he announced his candidacy, and caused an infuriated Johnson to pull his own campaign. Gove received just 14 per cent of the vote in the final contest, compared to 60.5 per cent for May. 


Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.