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15 August 2014updated 23 Jul 2021 9:48am

The UK would “favourably consider” arming Kurdish fighters in Iraq

The government would supply weapons to the Kurds fighting extremists in Iraq, if they request arms.

By Anoosh Chakelian

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have agreed at an emergency Cobra meeting to be prepared to supply Kurdish fighters in Iraq with weapons if they request them.

There is a meeting today in Brussels of EU foreign ministers, where the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond will tell his European counterparts that the UK is prepared to join the French in arming the Kurds fighting against extremists in Iraq.

France and the US have already supplied arms to the Kurds, and Downing Street sources say that although the Kurds have not yet asked the UK for direct help, it will consider any request for supplies.

The Guardian reports a Downing Street spokesperson referring to these new developments at the most recent Cobra meeting: “It is vital that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are able to stop the advance of [Isis] terrorists across the country… We will also continue our work to ensure that Kurdish forces have the military supplies they require, including transporting more equipment from eastern Europe. The Foreign Secretary will use the meeting of foreign ministers from across Europe to press for better coordination of aid and military supplies to Iraq.”

On the BBC’s Today programme this morning, the former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown called for an “integrated strategy” by the West to address a “widening Sunni/Shia war”, saying it “is time we joined the dots. Instead of having a series of plans for a series of humanitarian catastrophes…”

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He insisted that the UK must prioritise helping the Kurdish fighters in Iraq: “Support the Kurds, support them with arms – I can’t imagine why the government has been so reluctant about this.” He called the Kurds a “secular, northern bulwark against ISIS”.

Ashdown also urged the UK government to, “put pressure on Saudi Arabia and Qatar to stop funding the Jihadis. I can’t imagine why our government has failed to put pressure on them not to do this before…”

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This touches on the wider concern of the UK’s reticence to take the lead on foreign policy in this part of the world. At present, it is difficult to imagine Cameron making the first steps, ahead of, or even in step with, the US and France in the Middle East.