DAVID CAMERON last night recalled parliament to seek MPs’ approval for British involvement in air strikes against the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq.
MPs will return to Westminster tomorrow for a vote which could clear the way for RAF planes to join America, France and several Arab states in bombing IS positions as early as the weekend.
Mr Cameron is desperate to avoid a repeat of last year’s damaging Commons defeat over the issue of air strikes against Syria and will be seeking Labour support in the vote.
This time around, Labour leader Ed Miliband has said he is “open to the possibility” of air strikes in Iraq against the terrorist organisation that beheaded Scottish hostage David Haines in Syria and has threatened to kill a second British hostage, Alan Henning.
The Liberal Democrats have also indicated they will support action in Iraq – on the grounds that an Iraqi government request for military help provides a legal basis for the move – as long as it is limited to Iraq and not extended to Syria.
Last night, Mr Cameron, who was in New York for the United Nations general assembly, said: “I have requested that parliament be recalled to debate the UK response to the Iraqi government’s request for support against Isil [another name for IS]. The Speaker has accepted my request.”
Mr Cameron will fly back to Britain in time for a lunchtime meeting of the UK Cabinet today, which will meet to discuss options for military action. The move was confirmed by a Downing Street spokesman. He said: “The Speaker has agreed to the Prime Minister’s request to recall parliament.
“The Commons will meet on Friday for a debate on a substantive motion. The Prime Minister will open the debate and the Deputy Prime Minister [Nick Clegg] will close the debate. The Prime Minister has called a meeting of the Cabinet tomorrow at 1pm.”
The statement did not mention the possibility of military action against IS in Syria.
As the shadow cabinet met in Manchester at the end of the Labour Party conference to discuss its position, Mr Miliband said he would consider any request from the Prime Minister “very seriously”.
“Isil [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] is a threat that cannot be ignored,” he said. “If a proposition comes forward for military action by the UK, obviously we are open to it and will look at it.”
Mr Clegg confirmed the Liberal Democrats would be supporting the motion.
He said: “There are many people across the country who see what this medieval, murderous organisation does, slaughtering people regardless of their ethnicity or their religion; an organisation which is actively plotting to do us harm in this country. I think most people want the British government to play our part in ridding the world of this vile threat.”
Mr Cameron was last night meeting his Iraqi counterpart, Haider Abadi, for talks which are likely to see Baghdad formally ask the UK to join the United States-led military action against IS. Such a request would give Mr Cameron the legal cover he believes is needed to go ahead.
The announcement came after US President Barack Obama issued a call for the world to come together to tackle the threat posed by IS and “dismantle this network of death”.
Speaking to the UN general assembly, Mr Obama said that IS understood only “the language of force” and called on those who have joined up to fight with the group – believed to include several hundred Britons – to “leave the battlefield while they can”.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the conditions were aligning for the RAF to join the strikes against IS.
“The conditions that the Prime Minister originally set are now falling into place,” he said during a visit to Afghanistan.
“This is an international effort – you’ve seen other countries come in alongside the United States. This week, for the first time, we have seen other Arab countries involved in air strikes.”
Mr Fallon made clear that MPs would be asked only to support air strikes against IS in Iraq, and that – unlike the US – the government would not be seeking to extend them into Syria, as there has been no comparable request for assistance from the regime of president Bashar al-Assad.
With the US – which extended its military action against IS into Syria for the first time this week – having already mounted around 190 air strikes in northern Iraq since August, Britain’s involvement is more important politically than militarily.
Ahead of his meeting with Mr Abadi in New York, Mr Cameron became the first UK Prime Minister to hold talks with an Iranian president since that country’s revolution in 1979.
As Mr Cameron sought to enlist Hassan Rouhani’s backing for the international coalition against IS, the Iranian president posted a picture on his Twitter feed of the two politicians shaking hands.
Mr Cameron made no comment to waiting reporters after the hour-long meeting, but was overheard telling an aide: “A little bit of history done.”
In his address to the UN general assembly, Mr Obama condemned atrocities against women and religious minorities in IS-controlled areas and described the beheading of hostages, including Mr Haines and two American journalists, as “the most horrific crimes imaginable”.
The US president said: “No god condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil.
“The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.”
Mr Obama said the US would not send troops to “occupy foreign lands”, but will “support Iraqis and Syrians fighting to reclaim their communities”.
The US was not acting alone, he said, but had assembled a coalition of more than 40 nations, including Arab states.
He said: “I ask the world to join in this effort. Those who have joined Isil should leave the battlefield while they can. Those who continue to fight for a hateful cause will find they are increasingly alone. For we will not succumb to threats and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy.”
Mr Cameron also backed a UN resolution tabled by America which would impose global travel bans on foreign fighters planning to join conflicts overseas. The move, pushed personally by Mr Obama at a UN Security Council meeting attended by Mr Cameron, requires UN member states to update national laws to stem the flow of foreign fighters, including by withholding passports and freezing assets.
Meanwhile, the wife of kidnapped British aid worker Alan Henning has issued an appeal to IS to release her husband after she was sent an audio message of him pleading for his life.
Barbara Henning called for the militant group to “open their hearts and minds” and said she had been told that a Sharia court had found her husband innocent of being a spy.
“I implore Islamic State to abide by the decisions of their own justice system. Please release Alan,” she said.