Coalition seeks supporters of military action in Iraq and Syria as strikes on Islamic State considered

Kate McCann
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Leaders are canvassing opinion on possible air strikes by UK forces
The Conservative party has begun canvassing its MPs to find out if they would support military action in Iraq and Syria, as leaders from all three main parties appeared to be warming towards possible air strikes yesterday.

As the Nato summit got underway in Wales, Tory party whips were quizzing MPs to find out how many would support military action to counter the threat posed by terrorist group Islamic State (formerly known as Isis).

Whips, who are responsible for party discipline in the Commons, have been gathering information on how many MPs would back a government motion to use military power in Iraq and Syria ahead of the parliamentary recess, City A.M. understands.

“They want to be ahead of the game in case the House is recalled for a vote during the break,” a source said.

The move will fuel speculation that the coalition is exploring its options before seeking formal support for military intervention in the region. US forces have already carried out air strikes to support Kurdish forces pushing back Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq but the UK has so far only offered humanitarian aid.

The move came as Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg last night told Sky News that politicians should “keep an open mind” about an intervention designed to halt the spread of Islamic State, adding the solution could be military.

His comments built on an earlier statement made during his weekly radio show on LBC, where the Deputy Prime Minister said the government was talking to “a range of countries in the region and beyond” to build sup­port for a joint response comprising “diplomatic, political, military and hum­anitarian” op­t­ions. Clegg is also understood to be talking to his own MPs to gauge support for the plans.

A government spokesperson last night confirmed that Lt Gen Sir Simon Mayall, the ministry of defence’s Middle East envoy, had been sent to Erbil in Iraq to act as the Prime Minister’s eyes and ears on the ground.

“We’re considering actively whether to give them [the Kurds] arms ourselves and whether we can do more directly to train Kurdish militia. We’re already playing a role there but we can do more,” Cameron said yesterday.

He ruled out an alliance with Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, whose government had previously reached out to the west. “Assad has committed war crimes on his own people and is therefore illegitimate,” Cameron said, ad­ding that air strikes in Syria without the permission of Assad would be legal.

Labour’s Ed Miliband said yesterday that Islamic State is “a threat which can’t be ignored, I think its very, very important that we don’t just turn away from it.”

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