West’s dilemma over fate of Iraq

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THERE will be relief in many quarters that David Cameron, William Hague and Nick Clegg have all ruled out the possibility of sending British troops – even if the Army had sufficient manpower after the latest round of defence cuts – to Iraq to quell those blood-thirsty Islamic extremists who are now rampaging through the country. The Deputy Prime Minister acknowledged the West’s war weariness, and previous failures of military strategy, when he said yesterday: “I don’t think having made one mistake, you repeat it by making a second one.”

THERE will be relief in many quarters that David Cameron, William Hague and Nick Clegg have all ruled out the possibility of sending British troops – even if the Army had sufficient manpower after the latest round of defence cuts – to Iraq to quell those blood-thirsty Islamic extremists who are now rampaging through the country. The Deputy Prime Minister acknowledged the West’s war weariness, and previous failures of military strategy, when he said yesterday: “I don’t think having made one mistake, you repeat it by making a second one.”

Yet, while this approach is in step with Barack Obama’s policy of non-intervention, the unfolding carnage in Iraq – and the wider Middle East – should not be under-estimated. For, in many respects, the advance of jihadist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) towards the capital, Baghdad, could pose a greater threat to world peace than Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction which proved, ultimately, to be non-existent.

If this ruthless al-Qaida splinter group continues to repel the Iraqi security forces who have been left even more vulnerable and exposed by the retreat of US military personnel, it has the potential to inspire subsequent uprisings that will have similar repercussions and also threaten the stability of global energy supplies – the West, after all, is counting on Iraqi-produced oil in the coming decades to help neuter the muscular diplomacy of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

On this basis, the Prime Minister cannot wash his hands of this crisis – even though Iraq’s future security was not raised by a single backbencher at PMQs 
this week when MPs were rather pre-occupied by football’s World Cup which is, frankly, rather trivial in comparison to the unfolding carnage. For doesn’t Britain, as well as America and Nato, still have a duty to honour the legacy of all those fine soldiers who paid the ultimate price in order to secure the long-term stability of Iraq?

Racing ahead

Verdict on Tour de France plans

in contrast to the chaotic last minute preparations for football’s World Cup which kicked off in Brazil last night, Yorkshire’s plans for the Grand Départ in just over three weeks’ time could not be more advanced. This is to the eternal credit of all those organisations – and individuals – who are working round-the-clock to ensure that the Tour de France runs smoothly when millions of spectators line the roads of Yorkshire to see many of the world’s top cyclists in action.

Given the tendency of these “readiness reports” to expose organisational lapses – it is their function – it would be churlish not to acknowledge a critique which is complimentary about the forward planning that has taken place to date. However, there is no room for complacency. Crowd management for unticketed events is particularly complex. There is also the greatest imponderable of all – the weather – and its possible implications for spectators. Even Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity says this is beyond his control.

Yet, while Brazilians are divided about the financial benefits of hosting the World Cup, the same cannot be said about Yorkshire where people continue to embrace cycling in record numbers.

This enthusiasm is also not restricted to younger generations – it has been striking to observe the number of pensioners pedalling along the canal towpath near Bingley or racing their mountain bikes through Nunroyd Park on the outskirts of Leeds. Their enthusiasm is even further proof that the decision to bring the Tour to Yorkshire was an inspired one.

People power

Good PR or papering over cracks?

THERE is a certain irony behind the timing of Calderdale Council’s decision – albeit well-intended – to set up a People’s Commission in which local residents will be asked to help shape the future of NHS services.

This, after all, is the very area where opposition to a proposal to downgrade A&E services at Calderdale Royal Hospital in Halifax has, thus far, been met with indifference from those policy-makers who believe casualty care should be centralised at regional centres.

As such, the council needs to be very straight with residents about whether the Commission will have real powers – or whether it is just another glib PR exercise to tick a few boxes. For, unless there is a willingness to actually accept the verdict of NHS patients at the end of this exercise, the subsequent disappointment and disenchantment will only serve to widen the gulf between the area’s political leaders and the very people that they purport to serve.