MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – Prime Minister David Cameron may announce as early as Wednesday that Britain is ready to join airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and that he plans to seek parliament’s approval for such action, government sources said Tuesday.
Cameron is due to set out his position in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Wednesday night at which he will call on the world to unite to destroy Islamic State militants, whom he has warned are planning to attack Britain.
The decision to strike in Iraq would be at Baghdad’s request.
Cameron hasn’t yet decided whether Britain would take part in strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria because of legal issues, one source familiar with the matter said, and any announcement on Iraq would be to join strikes in principle and not herald immediate action.
On Tuesday, the British leader’s office said he supported overnight airstrikes by the United States and allies on Islamic State targets in Syria. He has previously said he supports similar U.S. action in Iraq.
“The prime minister will be holding talks at the United Nations in New York over the next two days on what more the U.K. and others can do to contribute to international efforts to tackle the threat we all face from (Islamic State),” his office said in a statement.
“The U.K. is already offering significant military support, including supplying arms to the Kurds as well as surveillance operations by a squadron of Tornadoes and other RAF aircraft.”
Britain was quick to join U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq a decade ago. But a war-weary public and parliament’s rejection last year of airstrikes on Syria have made Cameron wary.
He also had to prioritize Scotland’s independence referendum last Thursday over possible action.
Cameron would need to recall parliament, which is in recess, to put proposed airstrikes to a vote. Politicians in the opposition Labour Party, which voted against strikes on Syria last year, have suggested they would support action this time.
“If Mr. Cameron comes to the Labour opposition and there is a clear proposition, then I think he will get a fair wind,” Jack Straw, a senior Labour lawmaker, said Tuesday.
“Legally it is very straightforward as far as Iraq is concerned, because this is at the request of the sovereign government so there’s no issue of legality,” Straw told BBC radio, saying strikes on Syria would be legally trickier.
Douglas Alexander, Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman, said his party backed U.S. and Arab strikes overnight, but sources close to the party said it would only definitively make up its mind when it saw the text of a resolution from Cameron.
Alexander and Straw were in the northern English city of Manchester at Labour’s political conference.
“Both the prime minister and the president (Barack Obama) are due in the United Nations this week so we are now urging that a resolution (on military action) be brought to the Security Council of the United Nations,” Alexander said.
A few months ago, the British government was not actively considering airstrikes. But the beheading of a British aid worker by an Islamic State militant with a British accent has highlighted the danger the group poses to Britain’s domestic security.
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