Britain has stepped up its military involvement in the Iraq crisis. Photo: Getty
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Defence Secretary: the UK military could be involved in Iraq “for months”

The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon says that Britain’s role in Iraq has extended beyond humanitarian assistance.

Britain is stepping up its military campaign in Iraq to help its troops combat Islamic State (IS) militants. The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told RAF personnel in a visit to the Akrotiri airbase in Cyprus that the UK’s military could be involved in missions in the country for “weeks and months”.

According to the Times, he said:

“This is not simply a humanitarian mission. We and other countries in Europe are determined to do what we can to help the government of Iraq combat this new and very extreme form of terrorism that Isil [the Islamic State] is promoting…

“This mission isn’t over. There may well now be in the next few weeks and months other ways that we may need to help save life, protect people. We are going to need all of you again and the surveillance you are able to give us.”

He revealed that British warplanes are being sent over to monitor the movements of and gather intelligence on the jihadists’ movements in the region. Fallon also added that four Chinook helicopters are on standby in case an airlift of displaced Yazidi people is needed.

Rescue plans had hitherto been on hold, as the US claimed it found fewer trapped refugees than once feared, and David Cameron has until now been keen to focus on the UK’s humanitarian role in addressing the crisis.

However, Fallon’s comments suggest the increasingly direct military involvement of Britain in Iraq and come after the government considering arming Kurdish fighters, as well as the PM’s warning over the weekend that, “If we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain.”

Britain’s military involvement in any foreign crisis is a matter of acute sensitivity for politicians and voters alike, particularly in light of its mistakes in invading Iraq over a decade ago. It will take more than suggestions along the lines of “this time it’s different” to persuade MPs concerned about mission creep to accept Britain stepping up its role in the regions recent developments.

On the other side of the debate, there are many who believe Britain should take more responsibility than it is currently by granting asylum to displaced Christians from Iraq. Chair of the defence select committee Rory Stewart told the BBC's Today programme this morning that the PM may want to consider providing this asylum.

As Britain seems to be on the cusp of a big decision on a region whose modern history has so affected our leaders' attitude to military intervention in foreign conflicts, Cameron will have to stop walking a tightrope between these two bodies of criticism.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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If there’s no booze or naked women, what’s the point of being a footballer?

Peter Crouch came out with one of the wittiest football lines. When asked what he thought he would have been but for football, he replied: “A virgin.”

At a professional league ground near you, the following conversation will be taking place. After an excellent morning training session, in which the players all worked hard, and didn’t wind up the assistant coach they all hate, or cut the crotch out of the new trousers belonging to the reserve goalie, the captain or some senior player will go into the manager’s office.

“Hi, gaffer. Just thought I’d let you know that we’ve booked the Salvation Hall. They’ll leave the table-tennis tables in place, so we’ll probably have a few games, as it’s the players’ Christmas party, OK?”

“FECKING CHRISTMAS PARTY!? I TOLD YOU NO CHRISTMAS PARTIES THIS YEAR. NOT AFTER LAST YEAR. GERROUT . . .”

So the captain has to cancel the booking – which was actually at the Salvation Go Go Gentlemen’s Club on the high street, plus the Saucy Sporty Strippers, who specialise in naked table tennis.

One of the attractions for youths, when they dream of being a footballer or a pop star, is not just imagining themselves number one in the Prem or number one in the hit parade, but all the girls who’ll be clambering for them. Young, thrusting politicians have similar fantasies. Alas, it doesn’t always work out.

Today, we have all these foreign managers and foreign players coming here, not pinching our women (they’re too busy for that), but bringing foreign customs about diet and drink and no sex at half-time. Rotters, ruining the simple pleasures of our brave British lads which they’ve enjoyed for over a century.

The tabloids recently went all pious when poor old Wayne Rooney was seen standing around drinking till the early hours at the England team hotel after their win over Scotland. He’d apparently been invited to a wedding that happened to be going on there. What I can’t understand is: why join a wedding party for total strangers? Nothing more boring than someone else’s wedding. Why didn’t he stay in the bar and get smashed?

Even odder was the behaviour of two other England stars, Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson. They made a 220-mile round trip from their hotel in Hertfordshire to visit a strip club, For Your Eyes Only, in Bournemouth. Bournemouth! Don’t they have naked women in Herts? I thought one of the points of having all these millions – and a vast office staff employed by your agent – is that anything you want gets fixed for you. Why couldn’t dancing girls have been shuttled into another hotel down the road? Or even to the lads’ own hotel, dressed as French maids?

In the years when I travelled with the Spurs team, it was quite common in provincial towns, after a Saturday game, for players to pick up girls at a local club and share them out.

Like top pop stars, top clubs have fixers who can sort out most problems, and pleasures, as well as smart solicitors and willing police superintendents to clear up the mess afterwards.

The England players had a night off, so they weren’t breaking any rules, even though they were going to play Spain 48 hours later. It sounds like off-the-cuff, spontaneous, home-made fun. In Wayne’s case, he probably thought he was doing good, being approachable, as England captain.

Quite why the other two went to Bournemouth was eventually revealed by one of the tabloids. It is Lallana’s home town. He obviously said to Jordan Henderson, “Hey Hendo, I know a cool club. They always look after me. Quick, jump into my Bentley . . .”

They spent only two hours at the club. Henderson drank water. Lallana had a beer. Don’t call that much of a night out.

In the days of Jimmy Greaves, Tony Adams, Roy Keane, or Gazza in his pomp, they’d have been paralytic. It was common for players to arrive for training still drunk, not having been to bed.

Peter Crouch, the former England player, 6ft 7in, now on the fringes at Stoke, came out with one of the wittiest football lines. When asked what he thought he would have been but for football, he replied: “A virgin.”

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage