DOHA, Qatar — Great Britain has no plans to intervene militarily to assist the government of Iraq in repulsing the advance of Sunni Muslim extremists, a senior British defense official said Wednesday.
Echoing the position of the Obama administration, Philip Hammond, the country’s secretary of state for defense, said during a roundtable discussion with reporters at the British embassy in Qatar that a “political solution” to Iraq’s divisions among Sunni, Shiite Muslim and Kurdish factions was a “necessary precursor” to any military help for the Iraqi government now led by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, a Shiite.
Great Britain sent more than 48,000 troops into Iraq when the U.S.-led coalition invaded in 2003, and it maintained a presence in the country, where it was the second largest foreign force, until May 2009. Britons still hotly debate their role in Iraq, which was in the news again last month when the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, announced that it had opened a war crimes investigation into possible cases of abuse by British troops. The United States doesn’t recognize the court’s jurisdiction, but Britain does.
Hammond was in Qatar for a one-day visit that included meetings with Qatar’s foreign minister, Khalid bin Mohammed al Attiyah, and defense minister, Hamad al Attiyah, during which he discussed the advance of the onetime al Qaida affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Hammond told reporters that the immediate challenge in Iraq was the need for “an inclusive and a legitimate government in Baghdad” and that Britain wouldn’t take any action on behalf of the Iraqi government.
“Any military intervention which was not preceded by a political initiative to create an inclusive government, a government which is credible with the Sunni community in Iraq, would be bound to fail,” he said.
He said Britain might consider providing “technical assistance” to “rebuild the Iraqi security forces after the disaster of the last couple of weeks.”
“We are certainly not ruling out certain technical assistance and advisory support to a government of Iraq which has embraced the principles of inclusiveness,” he said.
Whether a political solution is likely appeared uncertain Wednesday as Maliki denounced calls to form an emergency unity government, calling it a “coup against the constitution and an attempt to end the democratic experience.” He said that such a “national salvation” government wouldn’t be representative of the results of April’s parliamentary elections, which awarded his party 92 of 328 seats.
Hammond said the United States and Britain “don’t have a specific coordination” over Iraq, though “we would certainly look to understand what they are doing as a matter of routine.”
Hammond also said there was a growing consensus among Persian Gulf nations, which are ruled by Sunni monarchies, that military action of any kind without preparing for a political solution would be “counterproductive.”
“I think there is a consensus that there needs to be an inclusive government that speaks to all the communities in Iraq,” he said. “I haven’t heard anybody in the last two days who disagrees with that view.”
Salman is a McClatchy special correspondent.