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UK arms shipment for Kurd fighters

Britain is gifting £1.6 million-worth of heavy machine guns and ammunition to Kurdish forces fighting the jihadi Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq, it has been announced.

The shipment of guns and ammunition will arrive in Iraq tomorrow and will cost nearly half a million pounds (£475,000) to transport.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: "The Kurdish forces remain significantly less well equipped than Isil (IS) and we are responding to help them defend themselves, protect citizens and push back Isil advances."

The announcement follows Prime Minister David Cameron's confirmation yesterday that Britain would be directly supplying the Kurds, who are fighting the extremist group that have seized large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

Mr Fallon said the gifting of the guns was needed as the Kurds are "significantly less well-equipped" than IS.

In a written ministerial statement, the Defence Secretary said: "I am laying a departmental minute today concerning the gifting of military equipment to the Government of Iraq (GoI), including the Kurdish regional government. This is at the request of the GoI.

"The UK is committed to assisting the GoI by: alleviating the humanitarian suffering of those Iraqis targeted by Isil terrorists; promoting an inclusive, sovereign and democratic Iraq that can push back on Isil advances and restore stability and security across the country; and working with the international community to tackle the broader threat that Isil poses to the region and other countries around the world, including the UK.

"The Kurdish forces remain significantly less well-equipped than Isil and we are responding to help them defend themselves, protect citizens and push back Isil advances.

"The initial gifting package is scheduled to arrive in Iraq on Wednesday September 10 and will consist of heavy machine guns and ammunition.

"The total cost is approximately £1.6 million plus an estimated £475,000 in transport costs."

The announcement comes as US president Barack Obama prepares to outline his strategy for dealing with IS tomorrow.

Mr Cameron has said if Mr Obama announces further military action against the jihadists beyond the air strikes that have taken place and Britain is to join in that action, MPs will have a vote on the decision.

But he stressed that the Government could take action without the approval of Parliament in the event of an immediate humanitarian catastrophe or if a British interest needs urgent protection.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond welcomed the formation of a new Iraqi government as an important step in tackling the Islamic State threat.

Iraq's parliament officially named moderate Shia politician Haider Abadi as the country's new prime minister late yesterday and approved most of the members of his proposed cabinet - though the key posts of interior and defence ministers remain to be filled.

The unity government, which has deputy prime ministers from the Sunni and Kurdish communities, replaces that of Nouri Maliki, who was forced to resign last month after accusations of pursuing sectarian policies which favoured Shi'ites.

In a statement released by the Foreign Office in London, Mr Hammond said: "The formation of Iraq's new government is an important milestone and I congratulate Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

"This is a critical first step on the way to addressing the serious security, political and humanitarian challenges facing Iraq. It is now vital that all political blocs work together to overcome those challenges, including the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

"To do this, it will be important for interior and defence ministers to be appointed quickly. I welcome Prime Minister al-Abadi's commitment to do this within the coming week.

"We will continue to support the people of Iraq, and their new government, in pursuit of peace and prosperity. The British Government will work closely with the new government of Iraq as it fights terrorism and to further strengthen the political, security and, economic ties between our nations."

The formation of the unity government was also welcomed by Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who said it represented "a historic opportunity for Iraq's people and their political leaders to overcome their ethnic and sectarian divides".

In a statement released by Nato, Mr Rasmussen added: "This new government is an important step towards building unity, security and stability in Iraq.

"I encourage all Iraqi political leaders to stand behind the new government to ensure it addresses the legitimate interests and aspirations of all Iraqis. Their support will be essential to defeat the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil), which poses a grave threat to the Iraqi people, to the wider region, and to our nations.

"At the Nato summit in Wales, we reaffirmed our commitment to the Nato-Iraq partnership. Should the Iraqi government request it, we stand ready to consider measures within the framework of the Alliance's defence capacity-building initiative to assist Iraq in its efforts to build more effective security forces."

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