UK politicians 'terrified' of military intervention in Iraq - ex-general

LONDON Tue Aug 12, 2014 10:35am BST

Kurdish peshmerga troops patrol in a tank during an operation against Islamic State militants in Makhmur, on the outskirts of the province of Nineveh August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

Kurdish peshmerga troops patrol in a tank during an operation against Islamic State militants in Makhmur, on the outskirts of the province of Nineveh August 7, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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LONDON (Reuters) - The British government is "terrified" of intervening militarily in Iraq ahead of elections due next year and is happy to posture rather than take real action, an ex-senior general who previously helped lead NATO missions said on Tuesday.

Islamic State insurgents - radical Islamists who want to re-create a mediaeval-style caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria - have swept across northern Iraq in recent weeks, pushing back Kurdish regional forces despite coming under U.S. air strikes.

Prime Minister David Cameron has so far refused to back the United States militarily, with Britain instead dropping relief aid onto Sinjar mountain, where thousands of people of the Yazidi minority sect have taken refuge from Islamic State.

Former general Richard Shirreff, who retired from the British army last week and was NATO's Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe until March 2014, told the Times of London that British action was insufficient and he chided policymakers.

"We have politicians who want to posture, who make a lot of noise but do not have any stick,” said Shirreff.

“This government is terrified of any form of intervention involving boots on the ground before an election next year.”

A spokesman at Britain's Ministry of Defence and a spokeswoman at Prime Minister David Cameron's office both declined comment when contacted by Reuters.

The last time Cameron tried to sign Britain up to potential military strikes in the Middle East, against Syria in August 2013, he lost a parliamentary vote.

It was the first time a prime minister had failed on such a vote of war since 1782, according to commentators.

The defeat was attributed in part to the bitter legacy of Britain's involvement in the 2003 Iraq war, which had done much to turn British public opinion against foreign military interventions.

Under then Prime Minister Tony Blair, Britain helped the United States invade Iraq after asserting - wrongly, it later turned out - that President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction; 179 British soldiers died in the eight-year long deployment that ensued.

A YouGov poll for The Sun newspaper showed on Tuesday that Britons were split over whether their country should launch air strikes against the Islamic State militant forces.

It showed 37 percent of respondents were in favour with 36 percent of people against and 27 percent uncertain, according to a poll of 1,676 adults conducted on Aug. 10-11.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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