UK sending arms to Iraqi government

A Kurdish fighter Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Kurdish fighters have been battling IS militants

Heavy machine guns and ammunition are being donated to Iraq to help fight Islamic State militants, the Ministry of Defence says.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the equipment was worth about £1.6m, and there would be an estimated £475,000 in transport costs.

He said the UK was committed to aiding the Iraqi government and helping Kurdish forces defend themselves.

The equipment is due to arrive in Iraq on Wednesday.

The "gifting" of the equipment was at the request of the Iraqi government, including the Kurdish regional government, Mr Fallon added.

The arms shipment will include 40 0.5in (12.7 mm) calibre machine guns and nearly half a million rounds of ammunition.

The Ministry of Defence says the supplies will come from its own stocks but will not impact operations by British forces.

The news comes after Iraq created a new government, sharing posts between the Shia Arab majority, Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

The Islamic State jihadist group has taken control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria and in June declared the creation of a "caliphate", or Islamic state.

'Shocking brutality'

Mr Fallon said the UK wanted to offer help to the Iraqi authorities by "alleviating the humanitarian suffering" of those Iraqis targeted by IS.

He said Britain wanted to promote "an inclusive, sovereign and democratic Iraq" that could push back IS advances and restore its own stability and security while working with the international community to tackle the broader threat posed by IS to the region and around the world - including to the UK.

He added that Kurdish forces remained significantly less well-equipped than IS - which was "guilty of shocking brutality".

"I am pleased that we will supply weapons to the Kurdish forces who are at the front line of combating their violent extremism."

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond had earlier said the appointment of Iraq's new government, led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, was an important milestone for the country.

He said it was now vital that all political blocs worked together to overcome challenges including the threat posed by IS.

He added: "The British government will work closely with the new government of Iraq as it fights terrorism and to further strengthen the political, security and, economic ties between our nations."

Treason call

The RAF has previously made several air drops of UK aid over Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq - where refugees fleeing from IS had been trapped - including water containers, solar lamps and shelter kits.

Food supplies have been dropped in several refugee areas and the UK, through the Department for International Development, is delivering £23m of humanitarian aid to the region.

The militants have seized parts of northern Iraq, where there are continued reports of massacres of non-Muslims. IS-led violence has so far driven an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis from their homes.

Whole communities of Yazidis and Christians have been forced to flee, along with Shia Iraqis, whom IS do not regard as true Muslims.

US president Barack Obama is due to outline his strategy for dealing with IS on Wednesday.

Prime Minster David Cameron has said that if Mr Obama announces further military action against the jihadists - apart from the US air strikes that have already taken place - then MPs will have a vote on whether Britain is to join in that action.

But he has said the government could take action without the approval of Parliament in the event of an immediate humanitarian catastrophe or if a British interest needs urgent protection.

Meanwhile, Conservative backbencher Philip Hollobone has suggested British jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq should be charged with treason for giving "aid and comfort to the Queen's enemies".

Justice minister Simon Hughes told MPs there were plenty of existing powers to deal with such cases without using the offence of treason but that new powers were also needed to fill any potential gaps in legislation.

The prime minister has previously said intelligence and security services believe at least 500 Britons have gone to fight in Syria and potentially in Iraq.

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