Thursday, 26 November 2015

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Cumbrian MP Rory Stewart on fact-finding trip to Iraq crisis zone

A Cumbrian MP is leading a fact-finding mission that will shape Britain’s response to the escalating crisis in Iraq.

Rory Stewart photo
Rory Stewart

Rory Stewart planned to visit refugee camps yesterday after spending time on the frontline at Kurdish military points overlooking Islamic State positions on Friday. He had flown into Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, describing the situation as “frightening” and admitting the present violence “feels like the beginnings of a civil war”.

Speaking from a Kurdish military vehicle, Mr Stewart, chairman of the powerful Common Defence Committee, told the News & Star: “This is one of the biggest challenges that faces the world at the moment and there is debate about things like should there be air strikes so I feel it is my obligation as a member of Parliament to come and understand what is happening.”

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

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

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the UK would “consider favourably” any request for the supply of arms to help Kurdish forces combat the IS militants.

Britain today welcomed the passing of a UN resolution designed to weaken Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria.

The United Nations Security Council gave unanimous approval to the document, which was drawn up by the UK. It backed sanctions on individuals recruiting, financing, supplying weapons, or fighting for militant groups, including the Islamic State.

There is also a growing humanitarian crisis. According to the UN, more than one million Iraqis are now displaced from their homes.

Penrith and the Border MP Mr Stewart will stay in Iraq until Tuesday. He plans to inform Parliament of his first-hand experiences and make recommendations about Britain’s role in the growing global situation.

He wants a debate in the House of Commons when Parliament returns early next month.

Mr Stewart said: “I will be sharing what I find with Parliament and Government but I am not here representing the Government. I am doing it as an MP.

“I want to go out to the refugee camps, meet Kurdish government officials and I want to try and get to Baghdad as well as speak to people like local journalists to get a broader sense of opinions. I hope to come back and make recommendations.”

Mr Stewart, a former soldier and diplomat, says it is difficult for people to understand what is happening in the region. He added: “I’ve been on the frontline this morning and I was looking across military positions and talking to people who had been fighting.

“This is an area where there are things happening like artillery shells being fired, suicide bombings and beheadings.

“People are leaving the area.

“It’s hard over here, it’s something like 43C, you’re in a desert and people are very tired and there’s a real shortage of ammunition.

“The civil position is quite frightening and there are particular tragedies of Christians and minority groups who are abandoning their homes.

“It’s heartbreaking and it is difficult to know if they will get back to their homes.”

He added: “There’s a real sense of how it should be a lesson in humility and how little the west knows or understands about what is happening. I didn’t think 10 years ago Iraq would ever look like this.”

The MP is no stranger to the country.

Mr Stewart worked as a post invasion deputy governor in a different region of Iraq between 2003 and 2005.

Mr Stewart has broken away from a family holiday in America with his wife, where they were visiting her parents, to visit Iraq.

He said: “I feel very strongly as an MP that we should understand these things before we judge or comment on them.”

It has been reported that militants in northern Iraq have massacred at least 80 men from the Yazidi faith in a village and abducted women and children.

IS fighters entered Kocho, 30 miles from Sinjar, on Friday afternoon, reportedly telling men to convert to Islam or die.


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