Why is the UK still supplying arms to those who helped fund the so-called Islamic State, and what leverage does it bring?
In the Prime Minister’s statement to the House of Commons following the Nato summit over the weekend, he spoke of seeking a broad base of support through the UN. Yet there was no mention of military action—as opposed to diplomatic assistance—from Gulf States.
Islamic State has been bankrolled by wealthy Gulf individuals from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, and their Governments have failed to act to prevent it. In March 2014, Nouri al-Maliki, the outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister, accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of being ‘at war with Iraq’.
Six names were added the latest UN sanctions list, issued on the 14th August. Two are Saudi and two Kuwaiti, alongside an Iraqi and Algerian.
Jane’s, a security consultancy, identifies Kuwait as a staging point for Islamic State funds, as a result both of its location and its permissive financial environment. Yet last year the UK Government approved 75 arms related licences with Kuwait alone. This is a just a small fraction of the total arms licences issued to Gulf states last year.
Foreign Office diplomats have been told to focus on trade. Either tough questions have not been asked, or more likely political masters have been unwilling to listen as funds passed from the Gulf to rebels fighting Assad, including hundreds of millions to Islamic State.
If the Prime Minister seeks Parliamentary support for UK airstrikes later this week, he will need to be much more explicit as to the military contribution of Sunni Gulf states. UK airmen should not be put at risk of being shot down and beheaded because those states we are supplying arms to are unwilling to fight themselves. It is not the UK’s role to settle a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
There is expected to be progress this week in delivering a more inclusive government in Baghdad, and that will alleviate a key impediment to the involvement of Gulf States. And at a time when the UK defence budget is being cut, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait can better afford military action.
Most importantly, the involvement of both Sunni and Shia branches of Islam in military action alongside Kurdish forces will reduce the risk of radicalising Muslims in the UK. Instead of Western aggression against Islamic State providing a rallying cry, fellow Muslims fighting a perversion of Islam will challenge the bile of the preachers of hate.
In Iraq, we should seek to detach the majority of Sunni tribal leaders – provoked by incompetence in Baghdad – from Islamic State. That will not be achieved by Western airstrikes, which risk uniting tribal leaders rather than dividing them – particularly when bombs hit the wrong target.
Sales of arms to the Gulf States are nothing new, but the time has come to challenge the silence around the role of their recipients in the creation of the so-called Islamic State.
UK airstrikes alongside the US looks like Groundhog Day. It is time for the Gulf States to come off the fence.
Stephen Barclay is the Conservative MP for North East Cambridgeshire.