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UK government debates offensive intervention against Islamic extremists

Prime Minister David Cameron and leader of the opposition Ed Miliband have both backed plans for possible UK air strikesin Iraq against Islamic State (IS) militants.

Parliament was recalled on Friday, 26 September for MPs to debate the benefits and implications of the UK joining the USA, France and several Arab states in conducting an air campaign against Islamic extremists. MPs will vote on the motion later on Friday.

Both party leaders claim there are legal and moral grounds for the UK intervening offensively in Iraq, based on an official request from the nation's prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, who leads a government the UK considers democratic and balanced.

“There is no question that we have the legal basis for action,” Cameron told the House of Commons. “It is morally right that we move to a new stage of action… by conducting air strikes as of now.

"I did not want to bring a motion today that there was not consensus for.”

Cameron touts the “unique military assets” the UK possesses, in particular the MBDA Brimstone missiles he says the USA does not have in its arsenal. The British military is also familiar with joint operations with its US counterparts – any UK strikes are likely to come under the control of the US Central Command – and has capable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets.

The UK has been participating in humanitarian assistance and surveillance over Iraq, which has included basing Royal Air Force Panavia GR4 Tornado aircraft in the region. These could be re-tasked to conduct air strikes if necessary, and the Tornado can be – and has been – integrated with the Brimstone missile.

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“There is no more serious issue than putting our armed forces in harm’s way… and Mr Speaker, I am here today to show why this is necessary,” Cameron says. “[IS] is a terrorist organisation unlike any we’ve ever dealt with before… We have to take action at home and abroad, and abroad means using all of our resources.”

Offering his support to the motion, Miliband says: “Military action must always be a last resort, and I think this criterion has been met.”

However, Miliband is quick to avoid parallels being drawn with the Labour-led decision to invade Iraq in 2003, noting that any action would be in support of a democratic government. “There is a heightened responsibility for us because we did intervene in Iraq,” he adds.

Both leaders maintain that British ground troops will not be deployed, with ground operations remaining the responsibility of the Iraqi armed forces.

The USA and France have already conducted air strikes over Iraq against IS. Earlier this week the USA began air strikes against IS positions in Syria, a decision that the UK would not be so quick to follow, Cameron claims, due to the complexity of the civil war in the country.

Meanwhile, Denmark on 26 September announced it would commit seven Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters to the air campaign, while Belgium is also debating its decision in parallel to the UK.

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