Iraq crisis: General says UK 'commitment-phobic'

Displaced members of the Yazidi community in northern Iraq Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Gains by militants in northern Iraq have seen tens of thousands flee their homes

A British general has accused the UK government of being "commitment-phobic" over the crisis in Iraq.

General Sir Richard Shirreff told The Times that politicians were "terrified of any form of intervention" ahead of next year's general election.

This comes as RAF Tornado jets are to be sent for possible use in a northern Iraq aid operation, as thousands of people flee from Islamist fighters.

The government said on Monday the jets would leave within the next 48 hours.

General Shirreff, who was the UK's most senior officer at Nato HQ until last March, said the UK government had "politicians who want to posture" but "do not have any stick".

"What we have got is this commitment-phobic government that is terrified of being seen to be putting boots on the ground at a time when they are trying to extract from everything," he said.

Image copyright NATO
Image caption The general wants soldiers to help get aid deliveries to the right places

The general also said: "The longer we sit on our hands and prevaricate, the more dangerous the situation is going to become.

"These things don't go away. We have got a situation. There is no way round it. You have just got to go through it and resolve it."

Prime Minister David Cameron has resisted pressure to recall Parliament to debate a UK military role in the Iraq crisis.

Islamic State (IS) fighters have made substantial gains in northern Iraq in recent months, forcing tens of thousands of people from religious minorities to flee their homes.

The UK's Tornado jets are set to take off from RAF Marham in Norfolk, and could carry out surveillance to assist delivery of aid supplies.

On Sunday an attempt to deliver aid was called off when the RAF crew decided that the supplies could have injured people below.

"If you are going to do anything, if you are serious about avoiding a humanitarian disaster, you have got to do it properly," said General Shirreff, who said he believed soldiers should be on the ground helping to deliver the aid to the right places.

The UK government has said it will work with Iraqi, Kurdish and international representatives in the area "to mitigate safety concerns".

It also said it would look at how it could play a role in getting equipment to Kurdish forces so they were better able to counter IS fighters.

US forces have carried out four rounds of air strikes targeting IS militants near Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The US has also begun supplying weapons to the Kurdish Peshmergas, who are fighting the militants, senior US officials told the Associated Press.

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