Iraq crisis: Philip Hammond says UK would consider arming Kurds. 


The UK would “consider favourably” any request for arms from the Kurds in their battle with extremists in Iraq, the foreign secretary has confirmed.

Kurdish forces are fighting militant group Islamic State (IS), which has seized large parts of northern Iraq.

France and the United states have already supplied them arms.

Philip Hammond said any request from the Kurds would be considered, although it is understood that the UK has not been formally asked for direct help.

The issue is being discussed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, which the foreign secretary is attending.

‘Terrible threat’Arriving at the meeting, Mr Hammond said: “The UK has said we will also consider favourably any requests for supplies of arms.

“We are already shipping ammunition and supplies from other eastern European countries into Irbil.”

He described the EU meeting as an “opportunity for member states to get together, to compare notes, to coordinate our activity, and send a very clear signal of our support to the new prime minister designate”.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki resigned and conceded power to Haider al-Abadi, Iraq‘s deputy speaker.

Mr Hammond added that the meeting was a chance to send “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”.

‘Counter-balance’Earlier, former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown called for the government to arm the Kurds, saying doing so would enable them to “provide rescue and refuge” to those fleeing from IS.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he could not imagine why the government had been so reluctant to do so.

Lord Ashdown said the UK needed to stop moving from from one humanitarian catastrophe to another, but rather “join the dots” and form an overall strategy regarding the Middle East.

“Diplomacy has a greater part to play in this crisis than military effect,” he said.

“I think the act of the West should be to seek to counter-balance.”

Thousands of refugees have fled from IS, which is reportedly targeting Iraqi Christians and members of the Yazidi religious sect.

The UN has declared the situation in the country a “level three emergency”, its highest level of humanitarian crisis.

A UN Security Council meeting on Friday is expected to approve a resolution, which has been drafted by the UK and is aimed at putting more pressure on IS.

The resolution threatens sanctions against any country which finances the group, helps recruit foreign fighters, or supplies weapons.

The UK is already helping transport Soviet-era military supplies from Eastern Europe to the Kurdish forces.

It is understood a decision on whether to gift or sell weapons to the Kurds will be made if and when a formal request is approved by the UK.

Humanitarian supplies ready to be airlifted to Iraq Humanitarian supplies have been airlifted to Iraq

In previous situations, arms have been either gifted or sold to different countries.

The RAF has been making aid drops to people fleeing IS, while the US has been carrying out airstrikes against the fighters.

Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “good news” that fewer refugees than thought remained on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, after a US mission found thousands had managed to escape the mountainside.

He had previously said the UK would “play a role” in an international mission to rescue the stranded refugees.

A Downing Street statement released after a Cobra meeting on Thursday said the need for more air drops was being reviewed, but that options would be kept open in case of “further need”.

Chinook helicopters and Tornado jets would stay in the area, Downing Street said, adding that the UK would continue to work with the Kurdish forces to ensure they had the military supplies they needed.

Since Saturday, the UK has delivered nearly 10,000 reusable water purification containers each containing 500 litres of clean water as well as shelter kits and solar lamps.

On Thursday, International Development Secretary Justine Greening said work to get supplies to those displaced by the fighting had been “absolutely critical”.

Meanwhile, under-pressure Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has resigned on state TV to make way for Haider al-Abadi, who was asked by Iraq‘s president to form a government.

Map of IS advance

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