I am currently in Beirut, Lebanon with the Foreign Affairs Committee. I am away all week and earlier this week I visited Cairo, Egypt and Amman Jordan. The reason I am here is to get the views of important regional countries on the current situation in Syria and Iraq and the threat of Da'esh/ISIL as part of a forthcoming report to Parliament by our committee.
That issue has also dominated much of the Parliamentary discussion over recent weeks. I took the opportunity of a few days recess earlier in the month to go to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq with the All Party Parliamentary Group. While I was there I was able to see the great achievements of the Kurds in building and developing their society despite difficulties caused by the government in Baghdad, and in defending it from the Da'esh terrorist threat to the South. The KRG has 4.7 million citizens. It is now hosting in addition 250,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees and 1.6 million internally displaced Iraqis. I visited two camps and met with Sunni Arab families who had been forced to flee from the Da'esh brutality in Mosul. I also spoke to a Yezidi man who broke down into tears when telling me about the murder of his family and enslavement of his daughters by the Da'esh/ISIL criminal Caliphate. Then I visited the front line south of Kirkuk and stood with the brave Kurdish Peshmerga forces just three miles from territory controlled by Da'esh.
I flew back from Kurdistan overnight and went straight into Parliament for the statement by Home Secretary Theresa May following the appalling terrorist attacks by Da'esh in Paris on Friday 13 November. Here is what I said and her response:
Mike Gapes MP (Ilford South): May I inform the Home Secretary that, over the weekend, there were great celebrations in Iraqi Kurdistan at the recapture of Mount Sinjar by the peshmerga in co-operation with the PYD—the Democratic Union party—in Syria and with the assistance of UK forces in the air, as well as other partners and allies? That has broken the connection between Mosul and Raqqa. Will the Home Secretary speak to her colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other Departments to assess whether it is not time that we in this country did more both to assist the Kurdish peshmerga and to see how we can destroy the Daesh caliphate cult in its headquarters in Raqqa?
Mrs May: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we of course need to defeat Daesh. We are doing that in a whole variety of ways, but dealing with it where it is primarily based is of course part of that. He is right to refer to the recapture of the important landmark of Sinjar, which was an important battle and an important success. I am sure that he has noticed that there is a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister on the Front Bench, who will have heard his remarks.
The following day 17 November Prime Minister David Cameron made a statement on the outcome of the G20 summit following the terrorist attacks in Paris. I was also called to speak and here is what I said and his response
Mike Gapes MP (Ilford South)): The content and tone of the Prime Minister’s statement spoke not just for the Government, but for the country. He referred to Mount Sinjar and the retaking of Sinjar by Kurdish forces supported by the international coalition. The all-party group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq visited the region and on Saturday I was with the Kurds on the frontline south of Kirkuk. Those Kurdish forces are brave and are putting their lives on the line every day; they did so at Sinjar, along with the Syrian Kurds. Can we do more to provide material support for the peshmerga of Iraqi Kurdistan and, pending a decision on whether we go into Syria, give more support from the air to the Kurds in Iraq?
The Prime Minister: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. The answer to his questions is yes. As he knows, we are already providing training and support to the Kurdish peshmerga forces. They are incredibly brave and incredibly dedicated, and they have done a brilliant job in liberating people from ISIL dominance. We discussed yesterday, with President Obama and the French, German and Italian leaders, what more we could do. Germany is already doing a lot in that area. We are doing a lot, and there is certainly more that we can do.
That evening I was present at Wembley for the friendly football international between England and France. It was in my opinion important that the match went ahead and the whole crowd sang the Marseillese in solidarity with France.
But we should also not forget that the fight against Da'esh is a global struggle. Most of its victims are not in Europe. They are Arabs or Muslims killed in Syria and Iraq or in bombs in Baghdad or Beirut, Africans murdered by Boko Haram in Nigeria, or Tourists in Tunisia or Egypt. And as well as taking robust action to crush and eliminate Da'esh in the territory they control in Iraq and Syria we must also help others elsewhere in the fight against this vicious evil cult. That will involve military, security economic and political measures against the group including to cut off its sources of funding and challenge its ideology.
There will be a vote in Parliament next week to extend the current UK military air campaign from Iraq into Syria. At the time of writing I have not seen the terms of the Government proposal. But if it is consistent with the position adopted by the United Nations Security Council last week then I would expect that Labour will be voting to support this. I certainly intend to do so.
I have attended many events in Parliament. I spoke to students visiting from Chadwell Heath Academy. I have also chaired two debates in Westminster Hall.
I have also been busy locally. I have held two formal advice surgeries and seen other constituents in my office at other times. I spent an afternoon at Mayespark Primary School speaking to students. I also spoke to students at the John Barker Centre. I attended the Ilford VHP temple for the Modi Express launch. I joined the Redbridge Asian Mandal Diwali celebrations. I attended Redbridge Bangladesh Society Eid celebrations. I attended the Ilford Remembrance Day service. I also spoke to Queen Mary University Labour Society.
I have also been busy with media interviews and programmes on a variety of issues including the LBC political panel, BBC Daily Politics, BBC Five Live , Sky News, BBC Essex, BBC London.