Shias in Iraq town under ISIS siege face risk of ‘massacre,’ UN says – Fox News

The United Nations warned Saturday that a northeast Iraq town under siege by Islamic State militants since June faces risk of a “massacre,” if urgent action is not taken to rescue residents. 

Militants have surrounded the small Shia Turkmen community of Amerli, roughly 110 miles north of Baghdad, drawing comparisons to Islamic State’s siege of Mount Sinjar, where thousands of Yazidi were trapped for weeks before U.S. air strikes drove the militants away and allowed the innocent civilians to escape the bloodthirsty jihadists. But this time, those trapped are Shia Muslims, who are reviled by the mostly Sunni Islamic State fighters.

The U.N. urged Iraq’s allies and the international community to “work with the authorities to prevent a human rights tragedy.” 

BBC reports the victims are part of the Turkmen ethnic group, who comprise roughly 4 percent of Iraq’s population. But as Shia, they are considered apostates by the jihadist group.

“After the attack of Mosul, all the Shia Turkmen villages around Amerli were captured by Islamic State,” resident Ali Albayati said. “They killed the people and displayed their bodies outside the village.”

Albayati said the town has been trying to fend off the militants for 70 days and are now left without electricity and drinking water. And unlike recent U.S. intervention to save members of the Yazidi religious trapped who were trapped on Mount Sinjar in northwestern Iraq, there are currently no plans for a rescue operation.

“The situation of the people in Amerli is desperate and demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens,” UN Iraq envoy Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement. 

“I urge the Iraqi government to do all it can to relieve the siege and to ensure that the residents receive lifesaving humanitarian assistance or are evacuated in a dignified manner,” he said. 

Most of the town’s residents work as farmers, but male workers have been neglecting crops to fight the militants, BBC reports. As a result, the only food supplies arriving in town come via Iraqi Army helicopters.

“It is a humanitarian disaster,” Albayati said. “Twenty-thousand people in Amerli are fighting off death. There are children who are only eating once every three days. I can’t describe the situation. I just don’t know what to say.”

Prime minister designate Haidar al-Abadi promised aid for the town on Saturday, calling for provision of “all times of military and logistical support for Amerli,” AFP reported.

Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayotollah Ali al-Sistani, also called for efforts to free the village and “save its people from the dangers of terrorists.” 

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Bombs kill at least 35 across Iraq a day after mosque shooting – Reuters

Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite volunteers patrol at Imam Wais village in Diyala province, August 22, 2014.  REUTERS/Stringer


(Reuters) – Bombings across Iraq killed at least 35 people in attacks that appeared to be revenge for an assault on a Sunni mosque that has deepened sectarian conflict.

A bomb also exploded in the northern city of Arbil on Saturday, a rare attack unsettling the relative stability the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region has enjoyed.

Local television footage showed firefighters dousing the charred remains of a car in Arbil. A Reuters journalist earlier saw a cloud of smoke, but the source was not clear.

In Baghdad, a bomber rammed a vehicle into an intelligence headquarters, killing at least eight people, police and medical sources said. Near Tikrit, a suicide bomber driving a military Humvee packed with explosives attacked a gathering of soldiers and Shi’ite militias overnight, killing nine.

Shi’ite militiamen machinegunned 68 worshipers at a village mosque in Diyala Province on Friday as politicians try to form a power-sharing government capable of countering Islamic State militants.

An advance by Islamic State through northern Iraq has alarmed the Baghdad government and its Western allies and drawn U.S. airstrikes in Iraq for the first time since the withdrawal of American troops in 2011.

Although the air campaign has caused a few setbacks for Islamic State, they do not address the far broader problem of sectarian warfare which the group has fueled with attacks on Shi’ites.

Bombings, kidnappings and execution-style shootings occur almost daily, echoing the dark days of 2006-2007, the peak of a sectarian civil war.

In addition to the Arbil attack, three bombings that appeared to target Kurdish forces killed 18 people in the city of Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, security sources said.

Islamic State routed Kurdish forces in its latest advance through the north.

Two of Iraq’s most influential Sunni politicians suspended participation in talks on forming a new government after the militiamen carried out the mosque attack.

Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq and Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jibouri have pulled out of talks with the main Shi’ite alliance until the results of an investigation into the killings are announced.

Jibouri, a moderate Sunni, condemned both Islamic State as well as the Iranian-trained Shi’ite militias who Sunnis say kidnap and kill members of their sect with impunity.

“We will not allow them to exploit disturbed security in the country to undermine the political process. We believe the political process should move on,” he told a news conference on Saturday.

Iraq’s new Shi’ite prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, faces the task of trying to draw Sunnis into politics after they were sidelined by his predecessor Nuri al-Maliki.

Maliki stepped aside after pressure from Sunnis, Kurds, some fellow Shi’ites, Iran and the United States.

Iran, a regional power broker with deep influence in Iraq, is sending its foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to Baghdad on Sunday for talks with Iraqi officials.

(Additional reporting by Alexander Dziadosz; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Rosalind Russell)


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What Are Obama’s Options for Stomping Out ISIS in Iraq and Syria? – NBCNews.com

The videotaped killing of kidnapped journalist James Foley prompted President Barack Obama this week to condemn his ruthless executioners — the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS — as “a cancer.”

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes went a step further Friday, vowing that the U.S. won’t cower to terrorists.

“We’ve made very clear time and again that if you come after Americans, we’re going to come after you wherever you are — and that’s what’s going to guide our planning in the days to come,” Rhodes told reporters.

The marauding militant group wants to carve out an Islamic state straddling Syria and Iraq, essentially a jihadist safe haven. Stomping out ISIS now presents a number of options for the Obama administration — each one with its own advantages and potential pitfalls.

And with at least three other Americans, including freelance journalist Steven Sotloff, still being held hostage by the terror network, the U.S. is under even more pressure to outline an effective battle plan.

Here are tactics the U.S. is already using or may want to consider in its bid to thwart ISIS, according to counter-terrorism and foreign policy experts, and the pros and cons of pursuing each:

Continue an airstrike campaign that could include Syria

Why it could work: This month, the U.S. began a targeted campaign against ISIS in Iraq, focusing mainly on the Mosul Dam, which terrorists have threatened to overrun. The dam is key because it supplies power and water to millions. U.S. Central Command said Friday that 60 of the 93 airstrikes launched have been to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces on the ground as they root out ISIS from the areas around the dam. Officials say the action has been successful.

To further erode ISIS’s grip in the region, the U.S. could look into similar airstrikes in Syria, where the terror organization grew its ranks amid the civil war that began in 2011. Syria remains a refuge for ISIS members, and intelligence officials say some of its commanders have retreated there during the airstrikes in Iraq. It wasn’t immediately known whether self-appointed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has also fled to Syria.

Rhodes on Friday didn’t say specifically what new military plans Obama could be presented with, but suggested operations could extend past Iraq.

“We’re actively considering what’s going to be necessary to deal with [a] threat and not going to be restricted by borders,” Rhodes said.

Why there are drawbacks: “It’s not as simple as, ‘A-ha, bomb Syria now,’” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow with the national security think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The U.S. would have to decide how it would inform Syria’s government and coordinate with its military forces, as the two countries maintain a chilly relationship.

In addition, the possibility of an air raid killing civilians in Syria, a country already decimated by war, would only bruise the U.S.’s image, Gartenstein-Ross said.

“In taking a heavier role, we have to make sure we don’t end up doing more harm than good — that we don’t end up killing civilian populations,” he added.

Put more U.S. troops on the field to train or possibly fight

Why it could work: While Obama has so far pledged to not put combat troops on the battlefield, he ordered last week for another 130 military “advisers” to deploy to northern Iraq to help protect minority sects threatened by ISIS. That’s on top of the nearly 800 troops already authorized to go to Iraq to assist and train the country’s forces against ISIS, which seeks to topple the central government in Baghdad.

While Obama may avoid having U.S. troops at the forefront of fighting, employing experienced American security forces would help — with theoretically 100 of these teams being deployed, said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow with the nonpartisan Brookings Institution. He said those forces wouldn’t be the main combat units in the field, but could assist Iraqi soldiers as needed in the heat of battle.

Why there are drawbacks: Military force is important, said Gartenstein-Ross, but troops on the ground, even in a background role, could get dicey. “It’s expensive, there’s absolutely a risk of troops getting killed and it could also serve as a symbol [of a U.S. invasion],” he added.

America’s past involvement in Iraq and continuing engagement in Afghanistan “shows how things can backfire,” Gartenstein-Ross said.

Aid ISIS’s enemies — including Syria’s president

Why it could work: ISIS’s ability in the past few months to seize whole communities in Iraq while obtaining heavy weaponry is taken “very seriously,” Rhodes said. The group appears to have surpassed al Qaeda in its ability to attract funding and build its network.

Such a level of sophistication has led the U.S. to aid ISIS’s enemies — the Iraqi government and Kurdish regional forces — with military support. That’s something that must continue, said Gartenstein-Ross. He added that there are likely ISIS members who are malcontent, given the alleged atrocities carried out, and are willing to turn.

“This organization is extraordinarily brutal,” Gartenstein-Ross said. “If you can locate ISIS members who are dissatisfied and give them a chance to defect and then publicize their story, you start to create a public-relations campaign against ISIS.”

O’Hanlon said a deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad could be one alternative for the U.S. to wipe out ISIS. While Assad and the U.S. aren’t on friendly terms, both share this common enemy. As a compromise, the U.S. could consider allowing Assad to remain in control of part of Syria in exchange for the U.S. having a greater role in eliminating ISIS.

Why there are drawbacks: Aiding the Iraqi or Syrian governments doesn’t guarantee the U.S. and other Western nations admiration in the region. The U.S., for instance, would still need to hold Assad — himself accused of chemical weapons attacks on his own people — at arm’s length, experts say. In Iraq, there are also no guarantees the Shiite-led government in Baghdad will be as inclusive of the various sects — a major complaint among Sunni Muslims, who make up ISIS.

A new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, is poised to replace Nouri al-Maliki after he failed to quell the violence during his two terms in office. Obama has called for someone less divisive, but it’s unclear if U.S.-backed al-Abadi can deliver.

Maintain a less visible and heavy-handed profile in Iraq

Why it could work: The beheading of Foley, a 40-year-old freelance journalist for the Global Post, was apparently done in retaliation for U.S.-led airstrikes in recent weeks. Continuing or expanding American airstrikes could provoke ISIS again — leading to possible executions of other Western hostages, said Cyrus Ali Contractor, a political science professor at the University of Houston and a member of the Center for International and Comparative Studies. The U.S., while it can’t back down, also has to be careful about making the fight appear to be solely America versus ISIS, he added.

“I think it is better for America to declare a role in the back, coordinating some of these operations while helping the Iraqi military to get in shape and tackle this ISIS threat,” Contractor said. “America will need to tone it down, so to speak. Not be so blatant in what it’s doing.”

Why there are drawbacks: The decision on how to handle ISIS is as much a political one as it is a military operation, experts say. With midterm elections looming, Obama will have to look at whether a public show of force before November — or a more behind-the-scenes approach for now — would be warranted, observers say.

How he might best respond could be used against him by political foes who might perceive him as weak — and hurt Democrats running in the congressional midterm elections, Contractor said.

Either way, with ISIS losing some of its momentum in recent weeks, now is the time for a decisive course, Gartenstein-Ross said.

“We just have to be aware that any undertaking can’t be done with such a heavy hand that it would backfire on us,” he added.

First published August 23 2014, 1:47 AM

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Deep Pockets, Dark Goals: How Will ISIS Keep Funding Terror? – NBCNews.com

Ransom payments for kidnap victims, crimes like extortion and robbery and, lately, oil sales are believed to have brought in “hundreds of millions of dollars” for ISIS during its two-year reign of terror, U.S. intelligence officials tell NBC News. But the group is burning through money nearly as quickly, fighting a two-front war in Syria and Iraq and trying to govern the self-declared “caliphate” it has established, they say.

The Islamic terror group’s annual revenues are now at least comparable to the funding that al Qaeda had available during its heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when U.S. intelligence estimated it was bringing in $ 25 million to $ 30 million a year, according to one official. And it may be that ISIS’s financial resources go “well beyond” those of Osama bin Laden’s organization at the time, the official said.

Ransom payments are one of ISIS’s major sources of income, with “tens of millions of dollars” paid by some European governments and wealthy relatives of the kidnap victims over the past two years. The low end of the estimate range is “well above $ 25 million,” according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In addition to collecting ransom, ISIS feeds its ravenous hunger for cash primarily through extortion and oil smuggling, said the official.

But while those activities are “the bread and butter,” no revenue stream is considered too insignificant, added a second official, noting that ISIS “requires drivers to pay ‘road taxes’ in territories it controls.”

“It’s like the Mafia. When it sees an opportunity to make money, it jumps in with both feet.”

Austin Long, a Columbia University assistant professor and former RAND Corp. analyst, compared ISIS s approach to that of the Mob.

“It’s like the Mafia. When it sees an opportunity to make money, it jumps in with both feet,” he told NBC News. “So historically, they’ve made money on everything from protection rackets to carjacking to people’s donations. … Now, they’re selling resources they’ve taken from oil fields and oil refineries … (and collecting) ransom.”

The second U.S. official said that in addition to selling equipment seized from the oil fields it has overrun, ISIS has been able to export some oil by disguising its point of origin and smuggling it out of the conflict zone. Some of that oil is going through Turkey, likely by truck, the official said.

It also has enriched itself with the spoils of war in other ways.

In June, the group raided Mosul’s central bank and other smaller banks as its fighters overran Nineveh province in Iraq. Initial reports from the mayor of Mosul had the group had made off with as much as $ 400 million in currency and gold bullion, but a senior intelligence official told NBC News last month that number was more likely “to the tune of millions of dollars.”

“They pose a greater threat today than they did six months ago, and we’re taking it very seriously.”

Unlike al Qaeda and other Sunni terrorist groups, which relied heavily on funding from wealthy Gulf state patrons, the amount of financial aid that ISIS gets from rich Sunnis outside Iraq and Syria “pales in comparison” to its self-generated funds, said the official.

White House spokesman Ben Rhodes said Friday that the increased funding and heavy weaponry seized during ISIS’s advance into Iraq “has developed their capacity in a way that has increased the threat. … They pose a greater threat today than they did six months ago, and we’re taking it very seriously.”

The group’s reliance on kidnapping reappeared in headlines this week after it was revealed that ISIS had asked Global Post, the last news organization to employ photojournalist James Wright Foley, for 100 million euros (approximately $ 132 million) for his safe return. Foley was beheaded this week by an unidentified ISIS fighter in retaliation for U.S. air strikes against ISIS in Iraq.

U.S. officials say European governments — along with some wealthy Arabs — have paid seven-figure ransoms to the group in exchange for hostages.

In April, four French journalists, two of whom were often cellmates of Foley, were freed near the Syrian-Turkish border as part of a deal with ISIS.

Image: Islamic State militants stand guard after controlling a checkpoint in Khazer at the border area of the Kurdish semi-autonomous regionReuters

ISIS militants stand guard a checkpoint in Khazer at the border area of the Kurdish semi-autonomous region in Iraq on Aug. 7.

At the time, the French government denied reports that $ 18 million had been paid for the journalists’ release, 10 months after they were captured. However, Phil Balboni, the CEO of Global Post, told reporters this week that he knew that recent ransoms for other kidnapped journalists had been between 2 million and 4 million euros (roughly $ 2.6 million to $ 5.2 million).

The U.S. officials declined to comment on the specifics of ransom payments paid by other governments.

Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counter Terrorism Center and an NBC analyst, said ransom payments help ISIS and other terrorist groups and add risk for citizens of those countries who agree to pay up.

“There is no doubt that paying ransom both encourages more kidnapping and provides terrorists with critical financial resources,” said Leiter. “Al Qaeda in North Africa specifically avoided taking hostages of countries that didn’t pay up, instead targeting European nationals whose countries routinely wrote checks. Moreover, these funds were central to purchasing the weapons and other support necessary to carry out additional attacks.”

Related

While ISIS’s earning power is impressive, it has a problem now that it has seized a large swathe of territory in both Iraq and Syria, the officials said. It can’t afford to see its cash flow diminish.

“It’s coming in and out quickly,” one official said. “… Fighters have to be paid something.”

He added there are logistics issues, moving men and materiel as well as feeding, clothing and tending to the medical needs of their fighters. Also, traditionally, the families of “martyrs” killed in action get pensions.

And ISIS has a new expense. “The cost of governance, paying administrators in the towns and cities they have captured and incorporated into their caliphate,” said the first official. “Running a caliphate is not cheap.”

Follow NBC News Investigations on Twitter and Facebook.

And while ISIS may have eclipsed al-Qaeda’s income, it has problems that bin Laden never faced when his group was training jihadists and plotting terror attacks under the protection of the Taliban.

“Al Qaeda wasn’t fighting a two-front war” or looking skyward at U.S. air assaults, the official added.

First published August 22 2014, 3:33 PM

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US Officials and Experts at Odds on Threat Posed by ISIS – New York Times

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US Officials and Experts at Odds on Threat Posed by ISIS
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US considering taking fight against Islamic State into Syria – Reuters

(Reuters) – The United States is considering taking the fight against Islamic State militants into Syria after days of airstrikes against the group in Iraq and the beheading of an American journalist, the White House signaled on Friday.

President Barack Obama, soon to end a two-week working vacation on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard, has not yet been presented with military options for attacking Islamic State targets beyond two important areas in Iraq, said White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.

But Rhodes made clear that going after Islamic State forces based in Syria is an option after the release of a video this week showing one of the group’s fighters beheading American journalist James Foley and threatening to kill a second American, Steve Sotloff.

“We will do what’s necessary to protect Americans and see that justice is done for what we saw with the barbaric killing of Jim Foley. So we’re actively considering what’s going to be necessary to deal with that threat, and we’re not going to be restricted by borders,” he said.

The U.S. effort against Islamic State thus far has been relatively limited. U.S. forces have conducted more than 90 airstrikes in Iraq to protect the Iraqi Yazidi religious minority and attack Islamic State positions around the Mosul Dam.

Extending the fight into Syria would allow opportunities for disrupting the group’s supply lines. Republican Senator John McCain told Reuters this week that Islamic State fighters have moved military equipment seized in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul into Syria and that they hold enclaves in Syrian territory that have been identified.

A move into Syria, even only with air power, would be a reversal for Obama. He stepped back from a threat to launch airstrikes in Syria a year ago in response to a chemical weapons attack against civilians it blamed on forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Time and time again over the past year, Obama has rejected greater involvement in the three-year-old Syrian civil war out of concern about getting entangled in a conflict with no clear positive outcome for the United States.

But officials say the situation now is different because Islamic State militants represent a direct threat to Americans and American interests. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Thursday that Islamic State cannot be defeated without addressing the part of the group that is based in Syria.

U.S. forces have already had one direct ground engagement with Islamic State militants in Syria. The White House said this week that a rescue mission this summer aimed at securing the freedom of Foley, Sotloff and a handful of other American hostages led to a firefight in which a number of militants were killed. The hostages were not at the location.

The United States is taking the Islamic State militants far more seriously now than it did six months ago, when Obama told the New Yorker magazine that they were the “JV team,” which is short for “junior varsity” and means they are not the best players on the field.

Rhodes said the group is far more dangerous now than it was six months ago.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)


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US Isn’t Sure Just How Much to Fear ISIS – New York Times

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US Isn't Sure Just How Much to Fear ISIS
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US Weighs Direct Military Action Against ISIS in Syria – New York Times

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US Weighs Direct Military Action Against ISIS in Syria
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US signals possible airstrikes in Syria against IS militants – euronews

The United States has signalled it may expand the fight against Islamic State militants into Syria after days of airstrikes in Iraq and the beheading of American journalist James Foley.

So far, the US effort has been relatively limited to protecting Iraq’s Yazidi minority and attacking positions held by the Jihadi fighters around the Mosul Dam.

“We’re actively considering what’s going to be necessary to deal with that threat, and we’re not going to be restricted by borders. We’ve shown time and again that if there’s a counter terrorism threat, we’ll take direct action against that threat if necessary,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy White House National Security Adviser.

Meanwhile, Kurdish peshmerga forces have been trying to reclaim areas around the towns of Jalula and Sadiyah, which Islamic State militants have held for around two months.

Despite facing a difficult task against the well-armed extremists, the Kurdish troops have made important gains and have recaptured strategic positions.

Earlier, at least 68 people were killed at a mosque in a village south of Baquba when suspected Shia militiamen attacked worshippers during Friday prayers.

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UK rules out alliance with Assad in fight against IS fighters – The News International

LONDON: Britain will not work with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to combat Islamic State (IS) fighters in the country and his permission would not be needed for any military intervention, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Friday.

Hammond also said Britain had no plans to arm moderate fighters in Syria’s civil war, and insisted that Western troops on the ground in Iraq would only make the situation worse.

Responding to comments made by former army chief Richard Dannatt, who argued that Britain should consider some kind of alliance with Assad, Hammond warned that it would deepen sectarian rifts in the region. “We may very well find that we are fighting, on some occasions, the same people that he is but that doesn’t make us his ally,” Hammond told BBC radio.

“One of the first things you learn in the Middle East is that my enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend.” It would poison what we are trying to achieve in separating moderate Sunni opinion from the poisonous ideology of IS,” he added.

Hammond also doubted Dannatt’s claims that any intervention to oust IS in Syria would need Assad’s approval.” I don’t know where the idea comes from that Assad has to assent to a military intervention in his country. There is a civil war raging in his country,” he said.

Britain could use its “military prowess” as part of any international attempts to halt IS’s advance, but would not send be sending ground troops, Hammond added.

“This is not a fight that can be won by Western military force on the ground — that would only serve to reinforce the narrative that IS is using to attract Sunni supporters,” he argued.

“This needs to be a fight dealt with by Iraqis on the ground.” Britain will consider “sensible” requests for military supplies from Kurdish forces — it is already transporting ammunition from eastern Europe to the capital Arbil — and would be open to requests from the new Iraqi government. But it will maintain its policy of providing only non-lethal support to moderate Syrian fighters, although the situation is under constant review, he said.

He also revealed that Britain was closely monitoring the situation in Amerli, a small Shia Turkmen community currently surrounded by IS forces, and that it would be willing in principle to join in an international effort to send support to the besieged people.

Hammond did not rule out Britain supporting the US in launching air strikes against Isis – a move proposed by Dannatt in his Today interview – although government sources have played down the prospect of this happening.

But Hammond did confirm that Britain was looking “sympathetically” at calls to provide arms to Kurdish peshmerga fighters who are at war with Isis, and he said Britain would also consider supplying arms to the Iraqi government for the same reason once an inclusive, representative government was in place.

He also said the government would consider supplying arms to the moderate opposition in Syria. Until now, only non-lethal aid has been supplied, he said.

“It is something that we will want to continue to review. As the situation on the ground changes, we will want to look periodically at the situation and make a decision as to what is in Britain’s best national interest,” he said.

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