Pope Francis endorses use of force against ISIS in Iraq
The Pope last night backed military action in Iraq to stop the bloody persecution of thousands of Christians by Islamist fanatics.
In a dramatic intervention, Pope Francis said military force could be justified against the murderous extremists of Islamic State in order to counter their ‘unjust aggression’.
He also revealed he is considering making an extraordinary visit to northern Iraq to show solidarity with Christians who are being murdered, raped and driven from their homes by the terrorists who have seized control of large swathes of Iraq.
His intervention came at the end of another day of fast-moving developments in which:
- David Cameron faced criticism for heading off for a second summer holiday just hours after warning that Islamic State terrorists could bring ‘mayhem to our own streets’ unless they are crushed;
- It emerged that Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has also gone on holiday only a day after warning that the British military could be involved in Iraq for months;
- US President Barack Obama broke off from his summer holiday in order to deal with the crisis and other domestic issues;
- Downing Street ruled out the use of combat troops and played down the prospect of direct British involvement in air strikes;
- Kurdish forces claimed to have regained control of the strategic Mosul dam following assistance from US air strikes;
- Pressure grew at Westminster for a recall of Parliament to debate plans for responding to the crisis.
Church leaders have criticised the slow response of the West to the persecution of Christians in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.
But the Pope last night went much further, giving conditional backing to the use of military force to halt the march of Islamic State.
Speaking to journalists while returning from a trip to South Korea, Pope Francis indicated he would prefer military action to be backed by the United Nations.
Asked if he approved of the unilateral American action on militants he said: ‘In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor.
‘I underscore the verb “stop”. I’m not saying “bomb” or “make war”, just stop. And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated.
The Pope also said he and his advisers were considering whether he might go to northern Iraq himself to show solidarity with persecuted Christians.
His comments represent a remarkable about-turn for the Vatican, which has vehemently opposed any military intervention in recent years. Only last year Pope Francis staged a global prayer and fast for peace when the West was threatening air strikes against Syria.
But the ferocity of the attacks against Christians in recent weeks has raised the issue of whether intervention in Iraq could be considered a ‘just war’.
Mr Cameron yesterday risked charges of complacency after quietly departing for a second summer holiday. The Prime Minister insisted he would remain in charge of Britain’s response to the Iraq crisis during a week-long break to Cornwall.
Mr Cameron said he would remain ‘within a few feet’ of his BlackBerry mobile phone even while on the beach. ‘I always make sure there are senior ministers on duty in Westminster,’ he said after delivering a speech in central London.
‘But I don’t hand over the Government to a deputy. Wherever I am, wherever I am in the world, I am always within a few feet of a BlackBerry and an ability to manage things should they need to be managed.
‘For the next few days I shall not be terribly far away, so if that’s necessary you will find me at my desk.’
But Labour MP Ann Clwyd, Britain’s former special envoy to Iraq, said it was extraordinary that Mr Cameron was pressing ahead with his holiday at a time of crisis.
She told the Daily Mail: ‘The Prime Minister should not be going on holiday at such a volatile time. He’s been sounding off, saying Islamic State is a threat to the West. He is right to do that but it just not acceptable to then push off on holiday.’
Miss Clwyd said Parliament should be recalled to debate the crisis. She said she would back some form of military intervention, including the rescue of an estimated 3,000 women and girls of the Yazidi sect captured by fanatics.
Some Tory MPs also added to pressure for a recall of Parliament.
Conor Burns said: ‘Parliament should be recalled ... so MPs can debate what is going on in Iraq, and we are very naive if we think that what is unfolding on the streets of Iraq has nothing to do with us.’
Earlier, Mr Cameron insisted the Government has a ‘fully worked through’ strategy to deal with the threat of Islamic State, including police action to tackle supporters in this country.
‘We are not going to be putting boots on the ground,’ he said. ‘Yes, we should use all the assets that we have – our diplomacy, our political relationships, our aid, the military prowess, the expertise that we have to help others ... to put pressure on Islamic State and make sure ... it cannot cause mayhem on our own streets.’
Number 10 said a recall of Parliament was ‘not on the cards’ unless the situation changes.
Discussions are currently taking place with authorities in Kurdistan about what military equipment Britain could provide.
- A takeaway manager from Liverpool is among a number of British Kurds who have returned to their homeland to fight Islamic State in Iraq. Mohammed Abudullah told Sky News: ‘I’m here just for Kurdistan, for Kurdish people, for my family. I don’t care if I get killed or not.’ Also interviewed was Saman Baqi, who is originally from Leeds, but travelled to Iraq to fight the terrorists.