The Prime Minister chaired today’s COBR meeting on the latest situation in Iraq and the UK’s response. The Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary and Development Secretary attended along with representatives from the agencies, officials from across Whitehall and overseas missions in Baghdad, Ankara, New York and Washington. The Deputy Prime Minister joined via a secure link.
Officials provided an update on the situation on the ground. Kurdish forces are continuing to counter ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) terrorists operating in the area, assisted by the US airstrikes. A US team had carried out an assessment on Mount Sinjar yesterday and concluded that the number of people still on the mountainside was now in the low thousands, with Kurdish forces assisting around a thousand people to get off the mountain to safety every night. This view has been reinforced by images captured by UK Tornados who flew a surveillance mission over the mountain last night and could not identify people in the numbers previously estimated.
Alongside this surveillance mission, 2 C130s distributed another 22 tonnes of aid last night to those on Mount Sinjar, including a further 13,200 litres of clean water and 480 shelter kits. The Hercules were accompanied by Australian aircraft for the first time, who also delivered aid.
The Prime Minister concluded that the humanitarian situation remains our priority. While the situation on Mount Sinjar is better than we had feared, and a rescue mission now looks far less likely, we will continue to monitor this situation closely with our US partners and Kurdish forces. We are currently reviewing the need for additional airdrops, given that there appear to be adequate supplies on the mountain, but we will keep the option open if we establish there is further need. We will also maintain our Chinook helicopters in the region so we have the flexibility to help the most vulnerable if the need arises, and our Tornados will also stay out there in case we require further surveillance of the area.
The need for humanitarian support across Northern Iraq remains acute with around 850,000 people displaced from their homes and a number of towns dealing with a massive influx of refugees. So we will keep up our efforts for support across the region: we have sent a humanitarian adviser to assess the refugee camp at Dahuk and based on that assessment we will consider what more we can do there and more broadly to support the UN, Iraqi and Kurdish efforts.
In the longer term, it is vital that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are able to stop the advance of ISIL terrorists across the country. That is why we continue to encourage Dr Al-Abadi to establish an inclusive government as quickly as possible, and we welcome the fact that the Islamic Dawa party have offered him their support. We will also continue our work to ensure that Kurdish forces have the military supplies they require, including transporting more equipment from Eastern Europe. The Foreign Secretary will use tomorrow’s meeting of foreign ministers from across Europe to press for better co-ordination of aid and military supplies to Iraq.
The Prime Minister also spoke to Chancellor Merkel this morning. They both agreed on the need to coordinate efforts on the humanitarian front, especially in Dahuk and nearby camps in Northern Iraq. They discussed the need for wider international coordination to tackle the threat posed by ISIL, not just in Iraq but elsewhere in the region. They also covered the situation in Ukraine and the movement of Russian aid convoys across the border, which they agreed could not be used as pretext for further destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine. Finally, they agreed on the need for the ceasefire to hold in Gaza and Israel, paving the way for negotiations on a lasting peace that will enable both Israelis and Palestinians to live peacefully and securely alongside one another.