MANCHESTER England (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron may announce as early as this week that Britain is ready to join air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and that he plans to seek parliament’s approval for such action, government sources said on Tuesday.
Cameron is due to set out his position in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Wednesday night at which he will call on the world to unite to destroy Islamic State (IS)militants, whom he has warned are planning to attack Britain.
The decision to strike in Iraq would be at Baghdad’s request. Cameron is due to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Wednesday. Sources in Cameron’s office expect him to request British air strikes against IS during the meeting.
Cameron has not yet decided whether Britain would take part in strikes against IS targets in Syria because of legal issues, one source familiar with the matter said, and any announcement on Iraq would be to join strikes in principle and would not herald immediate action.
“This is a fight you cannot opt out of,” Cameron told NBC News in an interview on Tuesday. “These people want to kill us. They’ve got us in their sights and we have to put together this coalition ... to make sure that we ultimately destroy this evil organisation.”
Earlier, the British leader’s office said he supported air strikes by the United States and allies on IS targets in Syria. He has previously said he supports similar U.S. action in Iraq.
“The prime minister will be holding talks at the United Nations in New York over the next two days on what more the UK and others can do to contribute to international efforts to tackle the threat we all face from (Islamic State),” his office said in a statement.
“The UK is already offering significant military support, including supplying arms to the Kurds as well as surveillance operations by a squadron of Tornadoes and other RAF aircraft.”
Britain was quick to join U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq a decade ago. But a war-weary public and parliament’s rejection last year of air strikes on Syria have made Cameron wary.
He also had to prioritise Scotland’s independence referendum last Thursday over possible action.
Cameron would need to recall parliament, which is in recess, to put proposed air strikes to a vote. That could happen as early as this Friday after Cameron discusses the matter with his Cabinet or might occur next week.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told the Spectator magazine he hoped parliament would support the plan.
“I hope Parliament now will have the courage shown by our armed forces already, (and) will have the mental strength ... to take on this challenge, but we’ll see,” said Fallon.
Politicians in the opposition Labour party, which voted against strikes on Syria last year, have suggested they would support action this time.
“If Mr Cameron comes to the Labour opposition and there is a clear proposition, then I think he will get a fair wind,” Jack Straw, a senior Labour lawmaker, said on Tuesday.
“Legally it is very straightforward as far as Iraq is concerned, because this is at the request of the sovereign government so there’s no issue of legality,” Straw told BBC radio, saying strikes on Syria would be legally trickier.
Douglas Alexander, Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman, said his party backed U.S. and Arab strikes, but sources close to the party said it would only definitively make up its mind when it saw the text of a resolution from Cameron.
Alexander and Straw were in the northern English city of Manchester at Labour’s political conference.
“Both the prime minister and the president (Barack Obama) are due in the United Nations this week, so we are now urging that a resolution (on military action) be brought to the Security Council of the United Nations,” Alexander said.
A few months ago, the British government was not actively considering air strikes. But the beheading of a British aid worker by an IS militant with a British accent has highlighted the danger the group poses to Britain’s domestic security.
Additional reporting by William James, Kate Holton and Stephen Adddison; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Ken Wills