BRUSSELS: Top officials of NATO and Britain said Thursday they had no plans to get involved militarily in Iraq, after Sunni militants overran much of the north and were pressing toward Baghdad.
Top European diplomats were consulting with each other and U.S. counterparts over the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, with the cities of Mosul and Tikrit falling to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria over the last two days.
Britain and France said it was up to Iraqi authorities to deal with terrorism and worsening security, while Russia’s foreign minister said the crisis pointed to the “total failure” of the U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq in 2003. NATO’s top official said the alliance had no request or mandate to act in Iraq.
“I don’t see a role for NATO in Iraq,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a visit to Madrid.
Foreign Secretary William Hague of Britain also ruled out any British military role. He said Britain was consulting closely with the United States and would support any U.S. decision on coping with the crisis, and floated the possibility of British humanitarian aid to refugees who were displaced in recent days
“We’re looking at that now,” Hague told the BBC. “But we will not be getting involved militarily.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has begun “a series of consultations on this matter with his main counterparts,” ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said, adding that France “fully supports the Iraqi state in this fight” against terrorists.
Spain, which unlike France participated in the 2003 invasion, called on Iraqi leaders to unite “against the serious threats overshadowing the country,” the Spanish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Iraq’s ambassador to France, Fareed Yassin, called on the international community to rally to the support of his country’s beleaguered government. Speaking on France Inter radio, he listed as Iraq’s military requirements “equipment, additional aviation, we need drones, lots of things.”
“What is happening in Iraq is a threat not just to Iraq but to the entire region,” warned the ambassador. Fighting in neighboring Syria was the “spark” to the situation, Yassin said. “For some time now at the Iraqi-Syrian border, jihadi groups, terrorists are creating networks like the drug cartels at the border of the United States and Mexico,” he said.
A totally different read on the situation came from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who said the rapid advances by the Al-Qaeda-inspired fighters proved the military invasion of Iraq 11 years ago had been a fiasco.
“What is happening in Iraq is an illustration of the total failure of the adventure undertaken primarily by the U.S. and Britain and which they have let slip completely out of control,” Lavrov was quoted by Russian state news agencies as saying.
Lavrov said Russia had long warned that the intervention would not end well, and now fears that the unity of Iraq is at risk.
Wednesday night, the North Atlantic Council, the primary political decision-making body of the U.S.-led NATO alliance, met in Brussels for “a purely informational meeting” sought by Turkey, so Turkey could inform the other allies about the situation in Iraq, Rasmussen said. Some Turkish nationals have been taken captive in Iraq.
“I strongly condemn the violence we have seen in Iraq and the hostages taken. Our thoughts are with the hostages, their families and loved ones,” Rasmussen said. “We urge the hostage takers to release the hostages immediately. Nothing can justify this criminal act.”