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.