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Plea by former head of British Army for parliament recall on Iraq

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 19, 2014

General Sir Richard Dannatt

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The former head of the British Army has said “the nation would expect” Parliament to be recalled to debate British involvement in Iraq, as the Prime Minister started his second holiday of the summer.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, who was a defence adviser to David Cameron after he retired as chief of the general staff in 2009, warned that MPs and Lords would get “very frustrated” if they did not get to address the situation before Parliament is due to sit again in October.

Britain is poised to provide weapons to Kurdish troops fighting the “murderous extremists” of Islamic State (IS) in northern Iraq as well as continued humanitarian aid.

The Prime Minister has insisted he remains in control and will be able to manage the Government’s response from Cornwall, where he has headed for a break with his family.

But also speaking from Cornwall, Sir Richard told BBC Breakfast: “I think Members of Parliament and members of the House of Lords will get very frustrated if they stay in recess through August and September until October.

“It is not the same as last year, the end of August, when there was a specific proposition that the British might support the Americans in bombing (Syrian president Bashar) Assad’s chemical capability, that was a specific issue.

“But I think there will come a point as this general set of circumstances unfolds, when Parliament needs to come back together, people need to have a full debate about it and express their point of view.

“I think the nation would expect that. Everyone has private points of view, I think they need to be aired publicly, I think they need to be aired in Parliament and then I think the PM is going to have confidence that he has got Parliament behind him and hopefully a consensus across the political parties that we are doing the right thing.”

Mr Cameron has pledged that the UK will not be ``dragged into a war in Iraq'' but Labour has criticised the Government's strategy, claiming the British role in the crisis is unclear.

Earlier this month, the PM cut short a trip to Portugal to respond to the emergency and has insisted he will do the same again “instantly” if necessary.

“Wherever I am, wherever I am in the world I am always within a few feet of a BlackBerry and an ability to manage things should they need to be managed,” he said yesterday.

“And indeed, as I have done on I think almost every holiday that I have enjoyed over the last few years, to return instantly should that be necessary.

“For the next few days I shall not be terribly far away, so if that’s necessary you will find me at my desk.”

Sir Richard also criticised as “unwise” the Government’s decision to publicly rule out British “boots on the ground” in Iraq when we may need to go in and help Kurdish forces battling IS, saying that we may need to go in and train Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the use of heavy weapons.

He told the BBC: “If we are going to give the Peshmerga a chance to fight (the) Islamic State in the way that we know they ought to be confronted and fought – that is what everyone is agreed about – then they have got to have modern weapons, they have got to have artillery, they have got to have mortars, they have got to have anti-tank guided weapons.

“These are complicated modern weapons and they will have to be trained in how to use them.

“OK, how do we train them? We either take some of their fighters out of country and train them out of country or we put in a training team to train them ourselves.

“That could be done within territory held by the Peshmerga and doesn’t necessarily need to be exposed to danger.”

Mr Cameron made a series of phone calls to Middle East leaders in a diplomatic push before the start of his holiday and Downing Street insisted the PM was “driving” the Government’s response.

“He has been engaged throughout this crisis and will continue to be so,” a No 10 spokeswoman said.

“The PM has been very much driving the Government’s response and looking at what we should be doing.”

US President Barack Obama last night said the retaking of the Mosul Dam from IS militants by Kurdish and Iraqi fighters was a “major step forward”.

The operation was supported by the US as part of its long-term strategy to bring down the militants, he said.

IS captured the Mosul Dam, the country’s largest dam and a centre for water and electricity supplies, two weeks ago.

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