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With so many of our political leaders on holiday the serious headlines have focused overseas on Gaza, Iraq and Ebola in West Africa. The situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate and a cross-party group of MPs have written to the Prime Minister demanding Parliament be recalled to debate what more could be done to protect Christians and other minorities from the murderous actions of the Islamic State that has captured much of northern Iraq.
Lord Dannatt, the former head of the army, has called for British troops to be sent in to extract these minorities and Church leaders have asked for them to be offered asylum here.
As the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, advances towards Baghdad, the Iraqi government is paralysed by sectarian conflict. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki leads a Shia-dominated minority government that has failed to stop the advance. The newly elected President Massoum, a Kurd, has nominated Haider al-Abadi as Prime Minister. He is a Shia but has support from Kurds and Sunnis as well as the USA and Iran but Maliki has so far refused to stand down.
Meanwhile ordinary life in Iraq is falling apart and the unrelenting violence of Islamic State insurgents has seen 1.6 million fleeing to save their lives. The 50,000 Christians of Mosul are either refugees or dead. They were told to go, pay a religious tax, or die. More than 20,000 followers of the Yazidis sect are trapped on a mountain in northern Iraq. American jets are bombing the Islamic State’s troops to keep them off the mountain but British helicopters could be used to lift the Yazidis to freedom.
...the unrelenting violence of Islamic State insurgents has seen 1.6 million fleeing to save their lives
All this has been a daunting introduction for Philip Hammond, the new Foreign Secretary, and this week’s resignation of Mark Simmonds (a week after the resignation of Baroness Warsi) has not made it any easier. Simmonds quit for family reasons, unlike Warsi who continues to condemn the government’s weak response to the conflict in Gaza.
Like President Obama, David Cameron is desperate not to repeat the mistakes in Iraq made by George Bush and Tony Blair. Thus Hammond’s priority has been delivering humanitarian aid but, necessary though this is, is it enough?
Grassroots Conservatives see Christians in the Middle East being subjected to an “outrageous genocide” and they demand urgent action to stop it. They also want British aid to be stopped to any country that denies freedom of religion.
In their letter to Mr Cameron they say ”While we welcome your comments on Britain being a Christian country which is a historic fact, our responsibility to love our neighbour as ourselves needs to be evidenced in our response to the outrageous genocide being targeted at fellow Christians in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.”
Their plea for action is echoed by moderate Muslims in Iraq who warn us that some of those guilty of crucifying Christians in Iraq are young British Muslims who could bring their extremism home in the future.