LONDON (Reuters) - 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.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he would not rule anything out in the effort to “squeeze” the militants “out of existence”, but had signalled Britain would not join U.S. airstrikes before a new Iraqi government was in place.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence said it would send machine guns and ammunition worth about 1.6 million pounds ($2.6 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 (Islamic State) and we are responding to help them defend themselves, protect citizens and push back (Islamic State) advances,” it said in a statement.
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.
Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Louise Ireland