David Cameron asked to clarify UK role in Iraq amid conflicting signals

Unhappy David Cameron

David Cameron was accused on Monday of a lack of clarity over Iraq amid apparently conflicting signals from ministers on Britain's growing involvement in the crisis in the country.

As the Pope endorsed the use of force to stop jihadists from the Islamic State (Isis) attacking religious minorities in northern Iraq, the shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, accused ministers of making confusing statements.

Alexander, who was speaking after the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, said Britain was no longer involved in "simply a humanitarian mission" in Iraq, told the BBC: "I do think there is a case for clarity being brought to the respective statements of the foreign secretary and defence secretary."

The prime minister sought to clarify Fallon's remarks by making clear there would be limits to Britain's involvement. Cameron told BBC1's Breakfast programme on Monday: "Britain is not going to get involved in another war in Iraq. We are not going to be putting boots on the ground. We are not going to be sending in the British army."

The prime minister, who rejected calls for parliament to be recalled to discuss the Iraq crisis, insisted that there is a clear strategy to tackle the Isis extremists. He added: "We should use all the assets we have – our diplomacy, our political relationships, our aid, the military prowess and expertise we have to help others – as part of a strategy to put pressure on Islamic State and make sure this terrorist organisation is properly addressed and it cannot cause mayhem on our own streets."

But Alexander said: "It would be important to understand the nature of the mission that British forces are now engaged in. Does that remain primarily focused on the humanitarian efforts? Because the humanitarian need continues to be huge."

Labour believes ministers have been stumbling from one decision to another on Iraq. Downing Street announced last week that Tornado jets would be despatched to the region to monitor the needs of the Yazidi refugees besieged on Mount Sinjar. The Tornados are now conducting surveillance missions of Isis forces deep into Iraq.

Downing Street initially said it would only transport arms to Kurdish forces on behalf of other EU countries. But it then said it was prepared to supply British arms if requested. No 10 said that the British mission in Iraq was solely humanitarian. Fallon extended this over the weekend when he said that British warplanes are flying deep into Iraq to gather intelligence in a mission that could last "months".

The prime minister, who left the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, to chair a Cobra meeting as he delivered a speech on the family, resumed his holiday on Monday when he travelled to Cornwall after flying on government business to Exeter for a photo opportunity related to his speech.

A spokesman for Cameron said last night he had discussed the crisis with regional leaders in the Middle East including the Saudi and Jordanian kings and the emir of Qatar.

Cameron's decision to resume his holiday in Britain, after a week in Portugal, followed the decision of Barack Obama to return to Washington from his holiday on Martha's Vineyard to discuss the Iraq crisis and the disturbances in Ferguson, Missouri. The president is due to return to Martha's Vineyard on Tuesday.

Pope Francis said that he was considering with advisers whether to travel to Iraq to show solidarity with persecuted Christians. However, a decision has not yet been made, according to the Associated Press.

Asked by journalists on his flight back to the Vatican from South Korea whether he approved of the US air strikes against Isis, the Pope said: "In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor.

"I underscore the verb 'stop'. I'm not saying 'bomb' or 'make war', just 'stop'. And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated."

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Nicholas Watt and Rajeev Syal, for The Guardian on Monday 18th August 2014 23.20 Europe/London

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