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August 28, 2014 7:29 pm
David Cameron will urge EU leaders to adopt measures to control extremists from Europe going to fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis. But the UK prime minister remains wary about ordering Britain’s armed forces to attack the jihadis.
Mr Cameron sent Tornado fighter jets to northern Iraq this month for use in surveillance operations over Mount Sinjar, as part of relief efforts to alleviate the suffering of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the extremists.
But Friday marks the first anniversary of the prime minister’s defeat in the House of Commons when MPs voted against military action in Syria – a defeat that hangs over British policy in the region.
Mr Cameron could not persuade MPs to back air strikes against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad: he has shown little enthusiasm for seeking parliamentary approval to bomb Mr Assad’s jihadi enemies.
British officials say the US has not asked for British participation in air strikes on Isis in Syria and Ira. One said: “We’re not particularly expecting that request.”
Washington is mindful of the political problems that Mr Cameron might face, were he to return to the Commons seeking approval to bomb the other side in Syria’s civil war.
British officials said Mr Cameron has not excluded taking part in air strikes but UK efforts remained focused on providing surveillance flights and humanitarian relief. He has ruled out putting British “boots on the ground”.
The prime minister will urge European leaders on Saturday to take action to control the threat posed by Isis, when the issue is discussed at an EU summit in Brussels. British proposals seen by the Financial Times call for four “urgent” steps, including the adoption of an EU directive on air passenger name records to allow member states to share information on individuals travelling to and from Syria and Iraq.
Mr Cameron will also propose that the EU should help countries, including Turkey, introduce the latest antiterrorist security systems, such as devices for scanning cargo and hold luggage and explosive trace detection.
The prime minister also wants to co-ordinate an EU foreign policy response to the crisis in Iraq and Syria and share best practice between member states on counter radicalisation measures.
Chart the progress of the jihadi militants as they attempt to gain more ground
Mr Cameron is likely to come under pressure from some MPs to adopt a more muscular military response, especially before next week’s Nato summit in Wales, which he will chair.
MPs voted 285 to 272 last year against military intervention in Syria but there remains some support in the Commons for Britain to help stop Isis taking a grip on the region.
One former Conservative minister said the house could support action against Isis but only if there was a broad international coalition of either the US and EU or the US and Nato. “There will not be support if it is only the UK and US,” he warned.
In a sign of the shifting political mood, Jim Fitzpatrick, a former Labour frontbencher who resigned over his party’s support for action in Syria, said he would not necessarily oppose action against Isis.
“Last time there was no end game or exit strategy, it was a repeat of 2003,” he told the FT. “We need to support the Kurds and the Iraqi military . . . but there is not going to be a solution without [Russia’s President Vladimir] Putin or Tehran,” he said.
Ed Miliband, the opposition leader, is to make an announcement on the Iraq crisis when the Commons returns from its summer break.
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