British parliament set to approve air strikes against IS in Iraq

Prime Minister David Cameron urged lawmakers on Friday to vote in favour of Britain joining US-led air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq, hours ahead of a crunch parliamentary vote he is expected to win.

London: Prime Minister David Cameron urged lawmakers on Friday to vote in favour of Britain joining US-led air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq, hours ahead of a crunch parliamentary vote he is expected to win.

Approval would mean Britain embarking on its first military campaign since it launched air strikes in 2011 against Muammar Gaddafi`s forces in Libya, seeing it join a coalition that includes the United States, France and Middle Eastern allies.

Cameron recalled parliament from recess for a special session after the Iraqi government requested British intervention, and was careful to secure cross-party support for strikes against IS before putting forward a motion.

"Is there a threat to the British people? The answer is yes," Cameron told parliament, saying he thought action would need to last "years" to be effective.

"This is not a threat on the far side of the world. Left unchecked we will face a terrorist caliphate on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member, with a declared and proven intention to attack our country and our people."

Britain, a staunch U.S. ally, was quick to join military action in Afghanistan and Iraq a decade ago. But a war-weary public and parliament`s rejection last year of strikes on the Syrian government prompted Cameron to tread carefully this time.

Cameron is expected to comfortably win the parliamentary vote, which is due at around 1600 GMT.

Before Friday, Britain had confined itself to delivering aid, carrying out surveillance, arming Kurdish forces who are fighting IS militants, and promising training in Iraq.

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 domestic security. The fate of another Briton being held, Alan Henning, has also stirred public opinion.

SCEPTICISM

Cameron`s approach has dismayed some lawmakers in his Conservative Party who think striking IS in Iraq is insufficient and want him to extend action to tackle militants in Syria too, something he has said he is not ready to do for now.

Richard Ottoway, the Conservative chairman of parliament`s foreign affairs committee, said IS was ranging at will across an unguarded border between Iraq and Syria, meaning it had to be targeted in both countries.

"We will never end this conflict by turning back at the border," Ottoway told parliament.

Cameron explained he had not proposed Syrian strikes because he realised there were concerns within the opposition Labour party about such action. Labour has said any such action would require a U.N. resolution on Syria.

"I do believe there is a strong case for us to do more in Syria but I did not want to bring a motion to the house today which there wasn’t consensus for," said Cameron.

"Of course ... there are many concerns about doing more in Syria and I understand that."

Some Conservatives harbour doubts about the efficacy of the Iraqi army and say Cameron is wrong to rule out deploying British ground forces, as he repeatedly has.

The limited scope of the proposed British effort -- only six Cyprus-based Tornado GR4 fighter-bombers are initially due to take part in strikes -- is modest compared to previous interventions.

That has prompted some Conservatives to accuse Cameron of taking only token action.

"Is he seriously contending that by air strikes alone we can actually roll back ISIL (IS), or is this gesture politics?" Edward Leigh, a Conservative lawmaker, told parliament.

Opposition leader Ed Miliband said he backed strikes against IS in Iraq, but some lawmakers in his left-leaning Labour Party made clear they were uncomfortable about the prospect of any kind of military action.

"The question is, will what the Prime Minister and the government is proposing, will that be effective in destroying ISIS (IS)?," asked David Winnick, a Labour lawmaker.

"Look at what the House of Commons (parliament) agreed to: Iraq, Afghanistan, in this government, Libya. None of them success stories."

Britain says around 500 of its citizens have travelled to fight in Syria and Iraq, raising fears radicalised fighters could return to stage attacks at home -- something Cameron has described as the biggest threat to national security.