Peers debate situation in Iraq

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Peers have urged the government to reach out to Iran and Saudi Arabia in order to help counter the rise of Isis, after the extremist group seized parts of Iraq.

Isis - the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant - took hold of Mosul and Tikrit although several towns have since been re-taken by government forces.

"This is the gravest political situation we have seen since 2003," Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Falkner of Margravine told peers. "If Isis gets control of a swathe of territory then we are in real trouble."

She continued: "If Saudi Arabia and Iran can have talks then the situation can be significantly helped."

Isis is a jihadist group active in Iraq and Syria, that grew out of the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda last year.

In January it capitalised on growing tensions between Iraq's Sunni minority and the Shia-led government by taking control of the predominately Sunni city of Fallujah.

Echoing Lady Falkner's comments, Lord Howell of Guildford, a former Conservative MP, called the situation an "immediate threat to our national direction, purpose and security" and urged the government to work with Saudi Arabia and Iran to find a solution.

But Ulster Unionist peer Lord Maginnis of Drumglass warned the government about entering into partnership with countries with ongoing human rights abuses. The government must "look outside the box in terms of the present situation," he said.

Foreign Office spokesperson Baroness Warsi, who began the debate by repeating a Commons statement made by Foreign Secretary William Hague, told peers that Mr Hague had already spoken to the Iranian foreign minister and the United States Secretary of State John Kerry about the situation.

"The government accepts this has to be resolved as a regional issue," she said.

During the House of Commons debate, Mr Hague reiterated that there are no plans for Britain to engage in military action in Iraq after the extremist group Isis seized parts of the country.

Baroness Warsi said the government would instead offer assistance to the Iraqi authorities, such as through "counter-terrorism expertise", and provide humanitarian aid.

The debate also touched upon the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence that was co-hosted by Mr Hague and Dame Angelina Jolie last week.

The event, which was attended by representatives from over 100 nations, aimed to change attitudes towards rape in conflict, increase funding to support survivors of sexual violence and urge countries to train soldiers to prevent sexual violence.

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