The UK has made a meagre contribution to the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) and is failing in its international obligations, MPs warn.
In a damning report released on Thursday — a day after Sir John Chilcot said there was still no date set for the findings of his long-running inquiry into the 2003 Iraq war to be made public — parliament’s defence committee said Britain was “lurching from over intervention to complete isolation” in the Middle East.
The UK’s military commitments to the US-led coalition against Isis were “strikingly modest” and far lower than the government had publicly stated, MPs said. The lawmakers argued that the UK’s contributions paled in significance, compared with those of other European countries and Washington.
“We must clearly acknowledge the previous failures in Iraq and reform our approach. But that does not mean . . . doing nothing,” said Rory Stewart, who chairs the committee. “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 20 years.”
Britain began military operations against Isis in late September, a month after the US began air strikes against targets in Iraq and Syria.
British politicians, including prime minister David Cameron have made frequent reference to the UK’s contribution to the campaign against the insurgency as being second only to that of the US.
But the committee’s report concludes: “UK officials, ministers and officers have failed to set out a clear military strategy for Iraq or a clear definition of the UK’s role in operations.” The report accused the government of having made only tokenistic and superficial commitments.
“We see no evidence of an energised policy debate, reviewing or arguing options for deeper engagement. Instead many questions of the ‘mission’, or strategy appear to have been left either in a vacuum between government departments or left to the international coalition,” it continued.
“The entire UK military presence in Iraq, outside the Kurdish regions, [amounts] to three individuals,” the report said. “By comparison the Australians have offered up to 400 troops, the Spanish 300 troops and Italy 280. The US has authorised up to 3,100 personnel to be in Iraq.”
The UK has also been responsible for just 6 per cent of air strikes against Isis so far, and has sent only 40 machineguns to help equip the Kurdish peshmerga, who are fighting Isis in northern Iraq. Germany, in comparison, has sent 16,000 assault rifles, 10,000 hand grenades, 8,000 pistols and more than 200 anti-tank missiles.
Members of the committee interviewed dozens of policy makers, senior Ministry of Defence officials and military chiefs for the report, as well as conducting a fact-finding mission to Baghdad.
Amid increasing brutality from Isis, which released footage on Tuesday showing its fighters burning a captured, caged Jordanian pilot alive, pressure is mounting for the campaign against the jihadis to be ramped up.
Representatives from the 60-nation anti-Isis coalition met in Washington on Monday to discuss ways to try to accelerate their efforts against the insurgents. The collapsing price of oil, which has hit Baghdad’s budget, and the glacial pace of political reform in Iraq, however, mean few expect any meaningful reversal of Isis’s position for months to come.
Get alerts on Isis when a new story is published