Channel NewsAsia

British PM under pressure to do more in Iraq

British Prime Minister David Cameron reluctant to do more in Iraq as UK general election approaches.

LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron says "detailed plans are now being put in place" for an international mission to rescue up to 30,000 Yazidis stranded in northern Iraq. Mr Cameron is under pressure to become more involved militarily in Iraq, but he has declined to do so thus far.

Mr Cameron had cut short his holiday by a day to return to London to chair a meeting of the British government's COBRA emergency committee on the crisis in northern Iraq. Afterwards, he said Britain remained committed to helping the refugees stranded in dire circumstances in northern Iraq.

"I'm proud of the fact that British aeroplanes and British aid have been playing a role and will continue to play a role to help these people, but we need a plan to get these people off that mountain and get them to a place of safety. I can confirm that detailed plans are now being put in place and are underway and that Britain will play a role in delivering them," said Mr Cameron. It comes as Britain confirmed a third round of UK air drops successfully took place on Tuesday night, bringing the total to five drops.

Downing Street has confirmed that Britain's role will remain largely humanitarian, but the decision by France to arm Kurdish fighters is likely to intensify pressure on David Cameron amid calls from some political, religious and military leaders that the UK has a moral obligation to play a more active role.

Many feel Britain's involvement in the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq that saw the toppling of Saddam Hussein means London has a special responsibility to help defeat jihadist fighters. British military jets are now helping with surveillance, humanitarian drops and the transport of refugees. Britain has also agreed to transport military supplies for kurdish fighters, although not arms.

Paul Osbourne, a political analyst, said: "Nine months away from the general election in the UK and every decision that David Cameron makes is at least partly about the election campaign."

But observers said that Mr Cameron is wary of further military involvement. Mr Osbourne added: "It could go really well. It could go really badly. It could involve the loss of British lives, it could turn into another lengthy protracted engagement in Iraq. That would not be something David Cameron would want to be talking about while trying to get re-elected."

The international mission to help the tens of thousands of refugees who have fled from Islamic State fighters appears to be ramping up, but it cannot come too soon for the people who have been displaced and are now enduring appalling conditions. 

Tweet photos, videos and updates on this story to  @channelnewsasia