UK arms Iraqi Kurds with heavy machine guns

Defense ministry says it will send machine guns and ammunition worth about $2.6 million

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Britain said on Tuesday it would send machine guns and ammunition to Iraq to help the new government in its battle against Islamic State militants, the first weapons it has supplied since the conflict that flared in June, Reuters news agency reported.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he would not rule anything out in the effort to "squeeze" the militants "out of existence", but had signaled Britain would not join U.S. airstrikes before a new Iraqi government was in place.

The Defense Ministry said it would send machine guns and ammunition worth about 1.6 million pounds ($2.5 million) at the request of the Iraqi government and that the weapons would be used by Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish forces.

"The Kurdish forces remain significantly less well equipped than [ the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] and we are responding to help them defend themselves, protect citizens and push back [ISIS] advances," it said in a statement.

Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said Britain was committed to assisting Iraq by "alleviating the humanitarian suffering of those Iraqis targeted by [ISIS] terrorists.”

He also said London would promote an "inclusive, sovereign and democratic Iraq that can push back on ISIL advances and restore stability and security across the country.”

Iraq created a new government on Monday under Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, sharing posts between the Shia Arab majority, Sunnis and Kurds. The shipment is due to arrive on Wednesday.

Cameron has said several times that Britain was considering arming Kurdish forces. It joins Germany, France and Italy which have already agreed to send weapons.

To date, Britain has carried out aid drops and surveillance missions and also transported military supplies to Iraqi Kurdish forces allied with the central government in Baghdad.

(With Reuters and AFP)

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