Allied air strikes against Islamic State militants have halted the jihadists’ advance in Iraq and degraded their military capabilities, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said.
Mr Hammond was speaking after talks in Baghdad with Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi, who took office last month at the head of a new administration intended to be more inclusive of the country’s ethnic and religious groups
In a show of support for Mr Abadi’s government, Mr Hammond said the UK was determined to “play its part” in helping Iraqis combat the IS fighters – also referred to as Isis or Isil (Islamic State in Iraq and Levant).
Addressing reporters following the talks, the Foreign Secretary said: “We’ve always understood that the air campaign alone was not going to be decisive in turning the tide against Isil.
“But it has halted the Isil advance, it has forced Isil to change its tactics and it is degrading their military capabilities.”
Confirming the UK Government’s position that there will be no British “boots on the ground” in Iraq, Mr Hammond added: ” The heavy work on the ground is going to have to be done by Iraqi forces.”
His visit came amid fears that the key Sunni province of Anbar in western Iraq could be about to fall to IS. The province’s police chief was killed on Sunday when his convoy was hit by a roadside bomb close to the capital, Ramadi.
Following last month’s emergency Commons vote, RAF Tornado GR4 fighter bombers have been attacking IS targets in Iraq in support of the US-led coalition being assembled to counter the jihadi threat.
It was disclosed over the weekend that a small team of Army instructors from the 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment is in the Kurdish capital, Irbil, helping to train the Kurdish peshmerga fighters to use heavy machine guns which the UK has supplied to them.
Mr Hammond said: “Isil’s violence makes no distinction between the cultures, countries and religions it attacks.
“If it is left unchecked, we will face a terrorist and criminal cabal with a declared and proven determination to attack anyone who doesn’t agree with its twisted ideology.
“The action the UK has taken to date, including air strikes and surveillance flights, shows the UK will play its part in standing with the Iraqi people in their fight against Isil.”
Meanwhile the Ministry of Defence has issued a call-out order under the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable reservists to be called into service as part of the UK’s contribution to operations in Iraq.
Armed Forces Minister Mark Francois said: “We anticipate calling out only a small number of primarily RAF reservists, with the necessary skills and experience who will operate alongside their regular colleagues.
“Currently, we plan on calling out only willing and available reservists, who have the support of their employer.”