In Chippenham last week, I joined the BBC’s Marc Allum at a dig in his garden in search of the remains of King Alfred’s defences when Vikings attacked the town in 878 AD. Alfred defeated the Viking army in battle, but just as striking is the relative peace he forged afterwards.
Sadly, a different future has befallen Iraq since Britain and America’s invasion in 2003. I expect one of the first items of business when Parliament returns next week will be a statement from the Foreign Secretary about the threat from extremist militias in Iraq and Syria.
The reports we have heard over the past few weeks have been truly shocking: hundreds of civilians killed, more than a million forced to flee their homes, and American journalist James Foley brutally murdered.
This summer’s escalation in the violence in Iraq seems to have caught many off-guard, raising questions over how well intelligence about what is happening on the ground is shared with parliamentarians and policy-makers. Given that we have had many opportunities to discuss the situation in the Middle East, one might have hoped attention could have focused on the deteriorating situation in Iraq and Syria.
We really ought to do what we can to provide humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands who are suffering without shelter, food and health care.
The coalition government has already committed an extra £13 million to help refugees in camps across northern Iraq and in Syria, and has sent aid flights to the country delivering food, tents and other essential kit.
The RAF also dropped aid bundles containing clean water and solar lanterns over the Sinjar Mountains, when 50,000 people were besieged there, and Tornado jets are carrying out reconnaissance to make sure aid gets to where it is needed safely.
The United Nations has declared the crisis in Iraq a Level 3 humanitarian emergency, its highest designation, and aid is keeping many people alive.
Chippenham’s member of the UK Youth Parliament, Kieran Mulvaney, has nominated me for the ice bucket challenge – the craze which is raising impressive sums for research and support for motor neurone disease. To see cold water poured over me, please make a donation at www.justgiving.com/duncan-iced55 or text ‘ICED95 £5’ to 70070.
My next constituency surgery will be at Melksham Town Hall on September 4, from 9am to 10.30am.