UK jet fighters now flying over Iraq ‘ready to strike,’ says Defense Ministry


Image: U.S. Central Command

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(CNN) — British jet fighters have been sent to fly over Iraq and “are now ready to be used in an attack role as and when appropriate targets are identified,” the UK Ministry of Defence said Saturday.

The deployment of the fighter jets is the first since Parliament authorized airstrikes by British forces on Friday against ISIS in Iraq, but not Syria.

Royal Air Force Tornadoes were sent from the Akrotiri air base in Cyprus to Iraq, according to the defense ministry. Photographs released by the ministry appeared to show two aircraft.

The ministry said the planes were “continuing a pattern of flights over Iraq which began in support of the humanitarian mission last month.”

It’s not yet clear what mission the aircraft are on Saturday or whether they will deploy weapons. But the images appeared to show that they were armed.

Parliament approved military intervention in Iraq after it was recalled for an emergency session Friday.

‘Not the stuff of fantasy’

The 524-43 vote in favor came after Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that the country had a “duty to take part” in international efforts to combat the extremist group.

The terror group is an organization of “staggering” brutality, he said, which has already killed one British hostage and threatens the lives of two more.

“This is not a threat on the far side of the world; left unchecked, we will face a terrorist caliphate on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member, with a declared and proven determination to attack our country and our people,” he said.

“This is not the stuff of fantasy; it is happening in front of us; and we need to face up to it.”

The government insists such action is legal because Iraq’s government has requested international help to tackle the Sunni extremist group, which has overrun vast swathes of Iraq and Syria and massacred religious minorities and Shia Muslims.

Wariness over new Iraq action

The parliamentary authorization, which was backed by the three main Westminster parties, rules out the use of UK troops in any possible ground combat operations in Iraq.

Many lawmakers who spoke in the debate before the vote voiced wariness over new military action in Iraq given the way the 2003 war turned out.

UK forces already have been taking part in surveillance and reconnaissance missions over Iraq, as well as aiding Kurdish forces with equipment.

The United States and a handful of Arab nations began bombing raids in Syria this week against ISIS targets.

U.S. aircraft had already been carrying out airstrikes against ISIS — the group also known as ISIL, which calls itself the Islamic State — in Iraq since last month.

French fighter jets have also carried out bombing raids in Iraq, while Belgium and Denmark have also said they will provide planes.

CNN’s Susannah Palk contributed to this report.

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