In a fine demonstration of his party’s internationalist principles, François Hollande has announced that France will supply arms to the Kurds to support their fight against Isis. The statement issued by his office said: “To meet the urgent needs voiced by the Kurdish regional authorities, the head of state decided in liaison with Baghdad to ship arms in the coming hours.” It is support that the brave but under-supplied Peshmerga (“those who confront death”) badly need.
Hollande’s announcement has coincided with the return of David Cameron, who has cut short his holiday in Portugal by a day and will chair a meeting a Cobra today at 1pm. One question that will likely be on the agenda is whether Britain will follow France in arming the Kurds. At present, support is limited to flying military equipment on behalf of Jordan to the regional government.
Hemen Hawrami, the Presidential Adviser for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Leadership Council, has made it clear that much more is needed. Asked if he wanted military support from Britain, he told ITV News: “Absolutely. We don’t need troops on the ground. We need advisers. We need aerial support and we need armament of peshmergas. Because IS by taking over most of the weaponries of five divisions of Maliki’s army, they are outgunning Peshmerga forces by modern armoured vehicles they have, by the different machines they have. What exactly we need is anti-tank missiles and armoured piercing weapons system in order to defeat them on the battlefields.”
Strikingly, he warned that a failure to defeat Isis could lead to terrorist attacks in Britain: “According to your Home Office, you have 500 passport holders within IS right now so they are not only a threat to Kurdistan but also a threat coming back to Britain and the EU. Kurdistan is the first defence line for Britain if they want to fight and they do want to fight for IS. We do believe it’s the right time right now for Britain to join the US in airstrikes. It’s like the time of what Britain did in 1981 when John Major saw the mass exodus of the Kurdish people, there is a mass exodus now of Yazidis and Christians. I think this is the right time again for Britain to intervene.”
The moral and strategic case for arming the Kurds is clear, but it will be far harder for Cameron to justify not recalling parliament (something he is keen to avoid after last summer’s Syria debacle) if direct support is provided.
Today’s Guardian reported that the government may avoid arming them since “[this] may be a step too far for the Liberal Democrat side of the coalition”. When I asked a Lib Dem spokesman about this claim, he told me: “The government’s position is we’re not offering military assistance at the moment, we’re doing the heavy lifting on the humanitarian side”. He added that he would not start “speculating” on other possible options.