ISIS fight widens as UK PM defends airstrike plans

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U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is facing criticism from MPs over plans to join the U.S.-led airstrikes on ISIS targets.

The involvement of Western powers in the Middle Eastern conflict is likely to take a step forward Friday, as U.K. Members of Parliament (MPs) vote on whether to take military action against terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).

Cameron said in his plea to the MPs, the majority of whom voted against military action in Syria last year: “Is there a threat to the British people? The answer is yes.”

He also did not rule out the possibility of further military action beyond initial plans for airstrikes – and added that he would be prepared to order immediate intervention to stop a humanitarian catastrophe, without the backing of MPs.

Airstrikes continue

The debate comes as airstrikes against the militants continue, with the U.S. targeting Syria and France – the first European country to join the coalition – striking ISIS targets in Iraq on Thursday, according to Reuters. A number of Arab allies are also involved.

British politicians have not yet backed military action, but Bethany Haines, the 17 year old daughter of David Haines, a U.K. aid worker murdered by Isis, made an emotional plea to do “what it takes” to stop the organization in a U.K. television interview. Meanwhile, the FBI claimed on Thursday to have identified the masked British jihadi who appeared in online videos of the killing of Haines and two American journalists.

Today’s vote

Cameron’s speech in the House of Commons was followed by a debate, in which MPs from all parties competed to make their views known. This will be followed by a vote at around 5 p.m. BST. MPs are voting specifically on whether there is a “clear legal basis” for action in Iraq, but – importantly – not on “airstrikes in Syria”.

If the vote passes, there are U.K. air force jets ready to attack ISIS targets in Iraq tonight. Lord Malloch Brown, former UK government minister and UN Deputy Secretary-General, told CNBC the motion was expected to pass, but with “background anxiety” from MPs.

<p>UK must &#039;step up&#039; to ISIS challenge: Foreign Secretary</p> <p>U.K. Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, says Britain must &quot;shoulder its share of the burden&quot; when it comes to ISIS and adds that the government is concerned about potential attacks in the West.</p>

The arguments in favor

ISIS is actively targeting U.K. citizens in Syria and Iraq. It is also damaging the fragile state set up in Iraq by the U.K. and its allies over the last decade. And the group seems to be better organized and funded than its predecessor Al-Qaeda.

Also, Haider al-Abadi, the newly-appointed Iraqi Prime Minister, has directly asked for U.K. help – meaning that intervention is allowed under international law.

The military action will be restricted to firing on targets from the air, which will hopefully mean minimal risk to U.K. soldiers.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told CNBC: “This will be an air operation. We are not expecting we will see anything like the casualties we have seen in previous conflicts where we have had ground forces involved.”

<p>There is no military solution to IS: ex-UN official</p> <p>Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, former deputy general secretary at the United Nations, says only a political solution will counter the Islamic State in Iraq.</p>

The arguments against

There are concerns that the U.K., which only extracted itself from Iraq in 2011, is going to get stuck in another Middle Eastern conflict which could go on for years.

“There will be an underlying cross-party chorus (from UK MPs) of where’s the strategy, where’s the exit plan?” Malloch Brown added.

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, called for more effort to find a diplomatic solution.

While the current emphasis is on no “boots on the ground”, there is always the potential for this to change.

One of the more troubling aspects of recent fighting has been the presence of ISIS fighters who were born and raised in the U.K. There are concerns that further U.K. action in the Middle East could foster yet more discontent among young Muslims in the U.K.

– By CNBC’s Catherine Boyle

 

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