UK ready to arm Kurds in Iraq, Philip Hammond says

Water, blankets, medicine and food is loaded into a German transport aircraft near Hamburg bound for Irbil, northern Iraq   Picture: AP
Water, blankets, medicine and food is loaded into a German transport aircraft near Hamburg bound for Irbil, northern Iraq Picture: AP
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FOREIGN Secretary Philip Hammond said the UK would “consider favourably” any request for arms to help Kurdish forces combat Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq.

The French have already announced their intention to provide weapons and the UK Government has said it would provide arms and equipment should the Kurdish leadership make a request. Following the announcement that Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki was relinquishing his post, Mr Hammond called on his nominated replacement Haider al-Abadi to form an inclusive government.

Speaking as European foreign ministers gathered in Brussels to discuss the crisis, Mr Hammond said they would get behind a new administration in Baghdad to “push back this terrible threat” from IS.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have been at the forefront of efforts to halt the IS advance, and their efforts have been praised for helping minority Yazidis flee from Mount Sinjar, where they had been trapped by the jihadists.

But they have complained about being outgunned by IS, leading to the offers of support from western governments.

As he arrived in Brussels yesterday for a meeting with European counterparts, Mr Hammond said: “France has made an announcement that it is willing to supply arms. The UK has said we will also consider favourably any requests for supplies of arms. We are already shipping ammunition and supplies from other east European countries into Irbil.”

Mr Maliki’s decision ends the political deadlock in Baghdad, and follows criticism that his administration had marginalised Sunnis and fuelled the rise of IS.

Mr Hammond said the EU would send a “clear signal” that it would support Mr Abadi if he formed an administration representing all the communities in Iraq.

He said: “This is an opportunity for member states to … send a very clear signal about support to the new prime minister-designate and a very clear signal that Iraq now needs to have an inclusive government representing all the people of Iraq so that we can get behind it and push back this terrible threat from IS.”

The Foreign Secretary added that Mr Maliki’s decision was “an important step at a crucial ­moment for Iraq”.

He added: “Iraq must see a smooth transition of power, and I hope this decision will contribute to the quick formation of a unified and inclusive government.”

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon chaired the latest meeting of the Cobra emergency committee to discuss the response to the crisis.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown welcomed the government’s movement on the issue of arming Kurdish fighters.

While insisting Kurds could act as a “northern bulwark” against IS, he said: “We are acting as handmaidens to Kurdish independence, with implications for Turkey.

“It really is time that we joined the dots,” he added. “Instead of having a series of plans for a series of humanitarian catastrophes, we need to have an integrated strategy for containing a widening war.”

He said it would result in a “shape of the Middle East which is much more arbitrated by religious belief than by old imperial preferences”.