British warplanes are poised to join international air strikes on the Islamic State terror group in Iraq after David Cameron told the United Nations that the UK was ready to play its part in confronting “an evil against which the whole world must unite”.
In what amounted to a rallying cry to MPs to back military action when Parliament is recalled tomorrow, the Prime Minister warned that Britain must not be so “frozen with fear” of repeating the mistakes of the Iraq War that it fails to take on the “psychopathic, murderous, brutal” jihadis.
Amid speculation that RAF planes could join US and French allies in bombarding IS targets as early as this weekend, Mr Cameron declined to discuss when the operation might begin or how long it would last, but acknowledged that it could take “quite a long time”.
He said he was “confident” of receiving support from the three major parties in the parliamentary vote, avoiding the embarrassment of a repeat of last year’s defeat over plans to bomb Syria.
Speaking to reporters in New York, Mr Cameron made clear that he envisages British warplanes joining coalition air strikes within Iraq, after receiving a request for military help from the country’s new prime minister Haider Abadi, and stressed that there would be no “boots on the ground”.
Islamic State – also known as Isis or Isil – posed a “clear and present danger to the United Kingdom” and the Baghdad government’s invitation gave “a clear legal base” for British military action, he said.
But he did not rule out later extending operations to IS strongholds in Syria – targeted by the US and its allies for the first time early on Tuesday – saying that this would happen only after a separate debate and vote in Parliament.
In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Mr Cameron acknowledged the wariness felt by many in the international community over military action in Iraq, following the decade of violence which followed the US-led invasion of 2003. But he said it was vital to “learn the right lessons – Yes to careful preparation; no to rushing to join a conflict without a clear plan”.
Mr Cameron warned: “We must not be so frozen with fear that we don’t do anything at all.
“Isolation and withdrawing from a problem like Isil will only make things worse.
“We must not allow past mistakes to become an excuse for indifference or inaction.”
The struggle with extremism must be waged not only against IS in Iraq and Syria, but also against Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya and al-Qaida in Yemen, Mr Cameron said.