Britain prepares to send troops back to Iraq

A number of officers are set to help train and advise the Iraqi army. They will be join an American headquarters that has been established in the capital

Shi'ite fighters, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State

Britain is preparing to send soldiers back to Baghdad to support the US-led mission to help the Iraqi security forces fight the Islamic State.

A number of officers are set to help train and advise the Iraqi army. They will be join an American headquarters that has been established in the capital.

More British training teams could be sent to the semi-autonomous Kurdish north of the country. An announcement is expected in the coming days.

The initiative, although small scale, would mark the first enduring British mission to Iraq since all UK forces pulled out of the country in 2011, eight years after the invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein.

“We are exploring what more can be done on training as part of a future package of support aimed at bolstering the ability [of the Iraqi military] to tackle [Islamic State],” a senior defence source told The Times.

Britain and its allies are coming under increasing pressure to do more to help Haider al-Abadi, the new Iraqi prime minister, as his security forces struggle to reclaim territory in the north and west of the country that fell to Islamic State earlier in the year .

“The strategy is Iraq first, which is really important,” a Whitehall source said. “If Iraq fails or the government becomes sectarian then that is a massive problem.If we are serious then we have got to stop [it] failing. If we can stabilise Iraq then we have got a hard shoulder to start putting the squeeze back on Syria. If we lose Iraq then we are doomed. “

The Iraqi army, which collapsed in the face of Isis advances in the summer, requires retraining. A Pentagon assessment found that at least half of all military units were incompetent. The United States has already agreed to send about 500 soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division to Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

Britain, with an approaching general election, has been slower to commit to offering training teams and advisers who may be required to operate on the ground alongside Iraqi troops.

David Cameron has previously insisted the government will not be sending “ground troops” back into Iraq. However, it is accepted that some presence is needed to support Iraq’s military and to ensure that Britain has influence in Baghdad – something that was lost when UK forces pulled out of southern Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

“The politics are really important. We need to demonstrate that we are committed to the military fight, “the Whitehall source said.

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