Neil Parish MP: statement on the security situation in Iraq

Neil Parish MP has written a statement on the security situation in Iraq and the UK Government's policy to confront ISIL.It was published in the Express & Echo Newspaper on the 30th October 2014.

THE atrocities committed by group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria against women, ethnic and religious minorities and anyone else who does not fit in with their narrow, distorted version of Islam, have shocked people of all faiths across the world. The horrific murders of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and of aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, have brought home the horror of ISIL’s uncompromising pathological ideology. My thoughts are with their families and friends at this very difficult time.

On September 26, I, along with Parliamentary Colleagues voted 524 to 43 to approve the Government’s motion on the issue of airstrikes in Iraq. The request for military assistance from the internationally recognised and sovereign Government of Iraq legally allows the UK to take part in US-led airstrikes as part of a coalition that includes regional powers such Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

Many constituents wrote to me in the days leading up to this vote and since. Some expressed support for military action to stop ISIL, others were wholly opposed to it. What both these groups of people had in common was their desire to protect human life.

It is very clear that ISIL poses a direct threat to the safety of British citizens. We have already seen from the Brussels Jewish Museum shooting that those travelling to Iraq and Syria to wage Jihad can return home further radicalised and are willing to carry out terrorist attacks when they return home to the West.

The territory ISIL control gives violent Salafist militants a lawless vacuum where young men can be radicalised and where a critical mass of extremists with experience of battle and tradecraft has formed to spread their hateful message to the Middle East and Eurasia.

They spread sectarian violence of the most barbaric kind. They already control large areas of Iraq and Syria and are gaining footholds in Lebanon and Jordan. Lebanon in particular with its fragile power-sharing agreement between the main religious groups is vulnerable to a return to sectarian civil war. They will not confine their activities to Iraq and Syria.

They do not know borders and pose a huge threat to neighbouring countries.

I believe the moral and legal case put by the Government is clear. Both the United Nations and human rights groups like Amnesty International reported the horrendous acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing committed against Christians, Shia Muslims Yazidis, and anyone who does not subscribe to their totalitarian ideology.

Article 1 of the Genocide Convention, of which the UK Government is a signatory, imposes “an obligation to prevent and punish the crime of genocide”.

Our moral and legal duty in the face of ISIL’s savagery is clear. We must protect civilians against this menace. By engaging in airstrikes the international community can deny ISIL freedom of movement, target command centres, destroy lethal equipment and disrupt their activities.

More importantly it will help halt the advance of ISIL militants and prevent further towns and cities suffering under their control and to give refugees more time to escape. We only have to look at the horrors inflicted upon the Kurdish town of Kobane in Syria to see what fate awaits new citizens of the Islamic State.

Already our airstrikes are having an effect. It has given the Iraqi army time to regroup, rearm and they are beginning to take back territory into Government control. There has also been a shift in policy under the new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi with more non-Shia Officers being promoted in the Armed Forces. Under the former Prime Minister al-Maliki, officers were promoted more for their loyalty to the Shia dominated political system then martial prowess.

However, we must also consider some of the underlying causes for the ISIL’s success in Iraq. Many Sunnis in Iraq feel politically and economically marginalised and that political institutions are dominated by the Shia and those aligned with Iran and Syria and will not protect their interests.

We must also remember the lessons of the 2006. Al-Qaida in Iraq, as ISIL once was called, had their potency as an insurgency diminished by not only the “Surge” of US troops on the ground and special forces operations but predominantly by empower Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar Provence to defend their communities from Jihadists.

In 2006 a number of these tribal groups, tired of predominately foreign Jihadist imposing their alien and authoritarian interpretation of Sharia law on their communities rose up and started fight against Al-Qaida. It was by supporting what became known as the “Anbar Awakening” that the Iraqi Government was able to bring some small measure of security to Anbar.

However, the sectarian Shia Government of al-Maliki did not capitalise on this goodwill and instead politically and economically marginalised Sunni communities whilst supporting his co-religionist.

Airstrikes alone will not defeat ISIL and it will be the Iraqi Army who must ultimately retake territory lost. The focus of any successful counter-insurgency strategy must be political and the UK Government and international community must ensure that any military action by the Iraqi Government is proportionate, in accordance with the law and is non-sectarian.

Most importantly it must be carried out in conjunction with action to improve socioeconomic conditions for Sunni neighbourhoods, address social grievances, and also empower Sunni religious and tribal authorities to combat radicalisation and provide security.