Jim Sillars: Out of options to use in Iraq

Yazidis wait in a makeshift camp in Iraq. Picture: Getty
Yazidis wait in a makeshift camp in Iraq. Picture: Getty
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Heartrending scenes from northern Iraq caused an explosion of demands for the “West” including the UK government to “do something.”

A bishop in the Church of England, backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, has castigated the government for not doing enough. As the UK and US bear responsibility for the disintegration of Iraq, we are under an obligation to do that “something”.

But this is not 2003. A decade on, the position of the US and the UK is very different. There is no stomach in the US for fighting a ground war in Iraq. The idea of a US president as the chief of the world’s police force died in Iraq and Afghanistan. As for the UK, little is said about it, but senior officers in the British military know that we crept out of Iraq defeated, and that the boast of Lord Reid, then the defence secretary, about not firing a single bullet, was a foolish one. All know those lives expended in fighting the Taleban have not prevented their come back.

Prime Minister David Cameron is under pressure to act, and I have no doubt that like you and me he would like to see the fanatical merciless Islamic State (IS) fighters, who used to be known as Isis, destroyed, and their threat removed. He may be able to slip in special forces, but he can’t put the kind of big numbers on the ground that would ensure success.

The British Army is no longer able to fight a serious war overseas except as a partner of the US. The British army is now 80,000 strong, at its smallest in modern times. That is not 80,000 fighting frontline troops. There is a long logistical tail to any military engagement – engineers, transport, supplies, stores, catering, signalling, intelligence, administration, general staff officers and men. Fighting troops, deservedly, get the attention but they couldn’t fight without the huge back-up.

We can deploy attack aircraft, but the largest ground fighting force the UK can now put in is around 12,000. That is the reason why there is no question of our unilateral military intervention on a grand scale. The UK is at the very end of empire, and no longer has the punching power it once had. It is a good job that there are now no states threatening invasion of the UK, because the army we have would be hard pressed to defend Cornwall and the navy, by the way, would be hard pressed to defend the Isle of Wight. Trident? Not any good against the jihadis.

That raises the question of: if we cannot do it militarily, who can? All the countries in Nato? There is no sign of Germany, France, Italy and the rest wanting to intervene. Turkey, a Muslim country, which may be threatened by the IS next, is in Nato and has a large capable army. Egypt has 470,000 military personnel, 1100 combat aircraft and 245 helicopters. These two alone should be able to wipe out the IS. Saudi Arabia has spent several fortunes on building up its 200,000-strong army and air forces, but as many Saudis launder money to the IS, its rulers might be afraid of lifting a lid on a pot that could boil over and remove them.

So, the “something” we can do in military terms is severely limited. That leaves humanitarian aid, and a willingness to take our share of refugees who, due to the destruction of their home areas, and their experience of extreme Islamic terror, will never want to return, and thus must be offered permanent stay here. If ever there was a genuine case of people needing political asylum, it is those people in Iraq.

National pastime: bashing the Jocks

THE lovebombing is over. Accusations of whingeing are back.

The Guardian’s correspondents can’t hide their contempt: “The sound of bleating and mewing was so loud coming from your end that we paid out just to shut you up.”

Nigel Farage, pictured, warning there would be a reckoning after a No vote, not just the West Lothian Question but on finances. That tousle-headed future Tory prime minister Boris Johnston: “But for some reason we are promising the Scots more tax-raising powers. There’s no need. What has England ever got out of

this devolution business?” Sunday Timers columnist Adrian Wooldridge: “The Scots are world champions at whingeing ... the rest of the country should seize on the referendum ... to put an end to this cycle of moaning and subsiding.”

If we are such a drain, what’s in it for them holding on to us? Maybe it’s the new major oil find, or the £800 more in tax per person than the UK average, or £39.8 billion of exports that helps shore up their balance of payments.


Hearts at the top of the championship. Hope Hibs eventually join you.