In the last vote the Commons had on military action, relating to the Assad regime in Syria, the Prime Minister failed to formulate a solid case for intervention. The Commons voted to postpone any military action until after he did so. But the case for action against ISIL in Iraq is frankly, in my opinion, overwhelming.
A clear majority of the public now backs air strikes against specific strategic targets, according to the latest polls, and every major Party backs military action against this threat. There lies the crucial difference between this vote and the vote on Syria, besides the obvious point that this motion specifically does not authorise strikes on Syria without a further vote by the House of Commons.
The motion to be voted on later limits the support of the House to backing only limited and closely targeted airstrikes on ISIL positions. These would include the small oil refineries from which ISIL derives an estimated $1.5m a day in revenue. The strikes would destroy armed positions where civilians are under threat, and they would cut off the Islamic State funding supply. History tells us that no state has been able to wage war without any money. This would stem their ability to purchase small arms on the black market.
These strikes would severely damage the Islamist threat to the UK, but they would also serve a hugely important humanitarian purpose.
ISIL is a murderous and medieval, but highly organized and effective (especially with the use of modern social media) gang of terrorists. They have beheaded Muslims, crucified Christians, raped and shot women and children, buried their opponents alive, and threatened to starve an ancient ethnic minority trapped on a mountainside. They are brutal to the extent that they make the Taliban look like amateurs.
Indeed, such is the humanitarian crisis, thousands of people are attempting to flee the barbarity of the Islamic State, many to Turkey. Around 500,000 civilians have been displaced since the beginning of 2014 in Anbar province alone, and as many as 2.8 million Syrian refugees have entered the countries bordering Iraq and Syria. About a quarter of the population of Mosul, around two million people, are now displaced.
The Islamic State has massacred thousands of civilians and military personnel alike. There are reports of truckloads of people being driven into the desert and murdered, just as the three American and British hostages were. We cannot reason with these people, and they will continue to murder those that do not follow their perverted – and, ironically, anti-Islamic – belief system until there is nobody left to kill.
This is why we must take action to protect civilians in Iraq, whether Shia or Sunni Muslims, Christians, Yazidi, or other ancient minorities who’ve lived in Mesopotamia since before Islamic times.
Crucially, and this is the legally important point, we have been invited by the Iraqi Government and the Kurdish regional authorities to help them. It is their troops on the ground that our air force will be supporting to protect their sovereign territory, and their citizens, from the brutal murdering hordes of ISIL.
I should say that I did not support the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I always felt that strategy was illogical and the rush of Western powers to intervene without United Nations or Arab approval created the impression of plain economic imperialism from which we never recovered. But I have supported the use of military intervention for past humanitarian efforts, such as Kosovo and Sierra Leone. Not to have done so would have repeated the tragedies of Rwanda and Bosnia, after which the world rightly said “never again”.
That’s why this action is supported by the Arab powers and by the world. There is no equivocation here. Islamic State is considered across the globe to be a barbaric organisation. That is the crucial difference. Here, we have an organisation that is considered to be a direct threat to our country, and a coalition of Western and Arab partners that backs limited military action. Indeed, Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have been striking ISIL targets before we have even debated doing the same.
ISIL is a threat to the world and to the Middle East. Most of all, it is a threat to the lives and liberty of the people living in the areas it operates in. I have been considering this position for quite a time now.
I called (and also blogged) for Parliament to be recalled over the summer recess to debate our country’s response to this threat and I am glad that we finally have a chance to do so. I have every confidence that the Commons will take the right decision tonight for humanitarian reasons abroad, and our own safety at home. This is the most important matter a Member of Parliament can vote on, and it is not a responsibility we take lightly.