MPs condemn the UK government role in fighting Islamic State as "strikingly modest"

A cross-party group of MPs are calling for greater action against the extremist militants.

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A cross-party body of MPs are calling on the UK to do more in the fight against Islamic State (IS). They have condemned the government's role in attempting to defeat the extremist militants as "strikingly modest", and warned against it "lurching to doing nothing" because of Britain's previous failures in Iraq.

The Defence Select Committee has issued a report that has found the UK's role lacking, and recommends the government steps up its action against IS in Iraq. The report acknowledges the difficulty of fighting such a terrorist group but argues that Britain should be prepared to supply further air support, invest heavily in staff to develop a better understanding of the situation on the ground, and to help shape a realistic plan for dealing with the threat.

The committee found that Britain has only carried out 6 per cent of Coalition air strikes against the jihadists and said it was "surprised and deeply concerned" it was not doing more in the international effort to eradicate the group.

The chair of the committee, Tory MP Rory Stewart, has given a strongly-worded response to the UK's role so far in fighting IS:

The nightmare of a jihadist state establishing across Syria and Iraq has finally been realised. DAESH controls territory equivalent to the size of the UK, has contributed to the displacement of millions, destabilising and threatening neighbouring states, and providing safe-haven to an estimated 20,000 foreign fighters, many dedicated to an international terrorist campaign.  Yet, the role that the UK is playing in combating it, is strikingly modest.

Visiting Iraq in December last year, the committee's MPs found only three British personnel working outside the Kurdish-controlled areas of Iraq (compared with the the 400 Australians, 280 Italians and 300 Spanish). They found none on the ground with a high level of expertise in the tribes, or politics of Iraq, or a deep understanding of the Shia militia, which is involved in the fighting against IS.

However, the committee stops short at recommending the deployment of combat forces (the often-debated "boots on the ground") to the region.

Stewart added:

We must clearly acknowledge the previous failures in Iraq, and reform our approach. But that does not mean lurching to doing nothing. The UK should find a way of engaging with Iraq which is moderate, pragmatic, but energetic. There are dozens of things the UK could be doing, without deploying combat troops, to work with coalition partners to help address one of the most extreme threats that we have faced in the last twenty years.

If the number of high-profile barbaric acts committed by the extremists increases, such as the recent murder of the Jordanian pilot condemned by the PM as "sickening", the government will continue coming under greater pressure to up its game in the region.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.