Only Iraqis can defeat ISIL in their own country: London mayor

On the second and final day of the Middle East Congress in London, the city's mayor said the Kurds were "our best hope" against the extremist group, Colin Randall reports.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson speaks on the second day of the Middle East Congress in London, UK on February 26, 2015. Stephen Lock for The National
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LONDON // Only the Iraqis themselves can hope to defeat ISIL in their own country and they must do so by “killing the viper” in their midst, the mayor of London Boris Johnson told delegates at a Middle East conference on Thursday.

Neither western nations nor Kurdish fighters alone were in a position to drive the extremist group out of the occupied northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Mr Johnson said on the second and final day of the Middle East Congress in London, in which The National was a media partner.

At the meeting, attended by international government members and business leaders, Mr Johnson described the Kurds as “our best hope”, deserving of international support for their resistance. But they could not win on their own “and we need to have a long-term view of how ON earth you will get Daesh out of that city,” he said, referring to ISIL by its Arabic name.

Mr Johnson, who visited Syria in January to meet British troops training Kurdish fighters, said that “only the Sunni Muslims of Iraq” could end the occupation. “They need to wake up, smell the coffee, realise they have been harbouring a viper and kill that viper.”

The mayor, who has ambitions to become British prime minister, said the tendency to label ISIL as medieval was “an insult to the Middle Ages, in many ways a civilised and rather beautiful period … what they are doing is barbarism”.

On confronting the threat of terrorism in the West, he declared himself “totally illiberal” and said intelligence officers should be able to bug the phones and monitor the emails of terrorism suspects.

In a characteristically forthright exclamation, Mr Johnson said: “If people are conspiring with each other with the intention of committing atrocities against this city [London], I want our security services to be able to observe what they are doing.”

Mr Johnson had previously said Britain’s established criminal principle of presumed innocence until proven guilty should not be applicable for cases of citizens who travelled to conflicts zones of Syria or Iraq without notifying the authorities.

"We need to make it crystal clear that you will be arrested if you go out to Syria or Iraq without a good reason," he wrote in The Daily Telegraph last summer.

“At present the police are finding it very difficult to stop people from simply flying out via Germany, crossing the border, doing their ghastly jihadi tourism, and coming back,” he said.

He argued at the time that anyone who gave allegiance to a “terrorist state” should be stripped of British citizenship.

Mr Johnson, who is in charge of the capital’s Metropolitan police force, coupled his demands for strong security measures with a recognition of what must be done to encourage young westerners to resist ISIL’s recruitment drive.

In a reference to the well-publicised case of the three London schoolgirls who recently travelled to Syria to join the group, he expressed dismay at young people being “seduced by this terrifying, nihilistic ideology”.

“This is not something we are going to solve in the short-term, except by giving these kids better alternatives in their lives,” he said.

Mr Johnson, a passionate supporter of historic links and friendship between Britain and the UAE, said London was “a brilliant city” in which institutions from the Middle East region could invest and its people could live.

He hailed London as a world leader in culture, business, financial and legal services and entertainment and even challenged a long-established stereotype by praising its “lovely climate”.

To laughter from guests representing a wide range of business and financial interest in the region, he dropped another clear hint about his political aspirations.

His role as London’s mayor was the best job in British politics, he said, “apart from one or two others I could think of”.

Also on the second day of the conference, Mohammed Al Otaiba, editor of The National, moderated a panel discussion on investment in infrastructure, real estate construction and development.

Mr Al Otaiba said of the discussion: “It seems we can be cautiously optimistic, and that there is huge potential for investment and development across the board in the region.”

Panelists included Ibrahim Al Zubi, senior adviser on sustainability at the Dubai Land Authority, and Dr Haidar Al Yousuf, director of health funding for the Dubai Health Authority.