No one should be under any illusion as to the horror of the humanitarian crisis now underway in Northern Iraq.
ISIL’s campaign of terror against peoples of all religions, the Yazidis, the Christians and Muslims, have shocked us all.
ISIL's violent and brutal campaign to terrorise and persecute religious minorities, including Christians, has already caused the death and suffering of thousands of innocent civilians across Iraq. The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned that this is part of an “evil pattern around the world”, in which people are being killed and persecuted simply because of their faith. We must acknowledge that these latest outrages are part of a growing pattern of persecution – and that anti-Christian persecution, just like anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, must be called out for the evil it is.
The British Government and the European Union should be speaking up, speaking out, and acting quickly to ensure that the international community does not simply walk by on the other side as this persecution increases. That’s why Labour has called on the UK Government to urge the UN Human Rights Council, which it joined in December, to build a consensus for action on religious freedom at the highest international level.
The Iraqi government has asked for help, and the UN has urged the world to act. The first priority must be to alleviate the humanitarian suffering of those people stranded and suffering. Secondly, the Government should convene an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council – which the UK currently chairs – to agree a coordinated international approach to the humanitarian effort, and the UK should work closely with our allies to achieve that. Thirdly, UK ministers should open discussions with the UN’s refugee agency about how to provide greater assistance to refugees fleeing the region. Just as we previously urged the UK Government to do more to provide refuge for the victims of the Syrian conflict; Labour now urges the UK Government to think again about how the international community can provide greater assistance to people - including many Christians and Yazidi - being persecuted by ISIL in Iraq today.
We do support US airstrikes that are protecting innocent people at risk from ISIL. We also believe it is right to provide crucial support to the Kurds’ military effort. But at the same time we must learn lessons from the events of the past decade (including the 2003 war in Iraq) and proceed with the requisite humility. President Obama agrees that the defeat of ISIL cannot be achieved by military means alone We need a regional approach to combat ISIL, bringing neighbours such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia & Iran together in negotiations. I fully back the recent resolution of the European Parliament to support and assist with this approach.
It will be the Iraqi’s themselves, with international support, who hold the key to tackling this current crisis in the long term which will only be resolved by political reconciliation of Iraq's communities and a strengthening of Iraq's security forces.
Iraq's outgoing Prime Minister, Nouri al-Malaki, has been unwilling, or unable to do what is needed for his country and its people. But the nomination of Haider al-Abadi as Iraq's prime minister potentially offers a new direction. He must promote an inclusive, sovereign and democratic Iraq that can push back on ISIL advances and restore stability and security across the country. The most urgent task now is to unite Iraq and galvanise its response to this crisis - the future of a whole country and the fate of millions of its citizens depends upon it.