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Fears of civilian deaths why SDLP voted against Iraq airstrikes: Mark Durkan

By Adrian Rutherford

The SDLP have outlined why they refused to back UK military intervention in Iraq to confront the Islamic State (IS) threat.

Mark Durkan, the party's Foyle MP, said they voted against airstrikes because they had not been convinced of the case for action.

He also voiced fears US-led bombing raids against the jihadist forces in Iraq could lead to a "deeper" ground campaign.

"Whilst I can fully understand those who want to respond in a sharp way – especially given the nature of what IS has done and we know are capable of doing – I am still not convinced that these measures can be effective in the precise way that people claim," Mr Durkan said.

"We have had all sorts of claims in the past about precision airstrikes in Afghanistan and elsewhere which have led to the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

"Indeed, the Israelis are supposed to have the sharpest technology available and look at how many innocent people they have killed in Gaza."

The SDLP traditionally takes the Labour whip.

However, the party rejected Ed Miliband's claims that intervention was the right thing.

The vote for intervention was swelled by the support of DUP MPs.

Last year the DUP effectively sank the prospect of UK involvement in military action in Syria after none of its eight MPs backed intervention in a crunch vote.

Five of the party's MPs voted against action while another three were absent from the debate where MPs rejected possible strikes against Bashar al-Assad's regime to deter the use of chemical weapons by a 13-vote margin.

Speaking from Westminster yesterday, deputy leader Nigel Dodds said there was a clear and present threat to the people of the UK from IS.

"We are in a different place than a year ago when Parliament was last called to consider military action," he said. "Unlike that occasion, the DUP is in support of military action. A plea has gone out to the country from the sovereign nation of Iraq for assistance in protecting its national integrity and the safety and security of its people. With our history of fighting for freedom and democracy, for justice and human rights, how can we reject such a plea?"

Mr Dodds said to have voted against intervention would have sent a "disastrous signal" that the UK is prepared to ignore the barbarism of IS.

"Intervention is justified because it is on a sound legal basis," he added. "It is at the request of the Iraqi government and there is a clear and direct threat to the UK through the murder of British citizens already."

Alliance MP Naomi Long also backed action.

The East Belfast MP said IS posed a significant threat to the Middle East and beyond.

"For those who question why we must strike back, the answer is we are already involved," she said.

"Some members of IS are UK citizens and our previous misguided intervention in Iraq means we now have a moral obligation to act.

"The Iraqi government has specifically asked for UK intervention as part of a wider coalition and we must accept the role we have to play, alongside Western and Middle Eastern governments."

Independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon did not attend the vote.

She said support for action was a foregone conclusion, adding: "I chose to stay in North Down and keep my long-standing commitments to my constituents."

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