UK urges Iraq to allow soldiers to remain after Parliament votes to expel foreign troops

5 January 2020, 18:19 | Updated: 5 January 2020, 21:32

Soleimani's coffin is carried during his funeral
Soleimani's coffin is carried during his funeral. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

The UK government has urged Iraq to allow its soldiers to remain in the country as tensions in the middle east continue to rise.

Earlier today, the Iraqi Parliament voted in favour of a resolution to expel all foreign troops in the wake of an airstrike by US which killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

They would also be banned from using Iraqi land, airspace or water for any reason under the terms of the vote.

A UK Government spokesman said: "The coalition is in Iraq to help protect Iraqis and others from the threat from Daesh (Islamic State), at the request of the Iraqi government.

"We urge the Iraqi government to ensure the coalition is able to continue our vital work countering this shared threat."

The vote in parliament was non-binding and only a decision from the Iraqi government would be legally binding.

In response to the killing of Gen Soleimani on Friday, Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said the parliament could end the presence of foreign troops or restrict their mission training local forces. He backed the first option.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had spoken to him on Sunday morning in the wake of the killing of the head of the elite Quds Force, who masterminded Tehran's security strategy in the region.

Mr Raab was defending the Mr Trump's decision to launch the drone strike, accusing hardliners in Tehran of "nefarious behaviour" and saying the US has the "right of self defence".

But his call for the pursuit of a diplomatic route to bring Tehran "in from the international cold" came as Iran accused the US president of breaching international law.

"The US will take their own operational judgment call but they've got the right of self defence," Mr Raab told Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

"So we understand the position the US were in and I don't think we should be naive about the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or indeed General Soleimani."

The Foreign Secretary also defended Mr Johnson, saying he has been in "constant contact" with the PM who remained "in charge" throughout his holiday.

As Mr Raab was speaking, Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif struck back at the president's Twitter threat to target 52 Iranian sites "very fast and very hard" if Tehran attacks US assets.

Mr Zarif accused Mr Trump of having "committed grave breaches" of international law with the killing and of threatening to commit a "war crime" by targeting cultural sites.

Labour's shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry warned of a "lurch towards war" arising from the president's "reckless" decision to kill the general.

The Foreign Office strengthened travel advice to Britons across the Middle East including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, while the Navy was to begin accompanying UK-flagged ships through the key oil route of the Strait of Hormuz.

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