LONDON — Britain is preparing to join the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State militants as members of parliament debate whether to participate in airstrikes in Iraq.
Prime Minister David Cameron is making the case to British legislators Friday and MPs will vote later in the day on whether to support action combating the organization that has captured large parts of Iraq and Syria and threatens to further destabilize the entire Middle East region.
"I believe it is our duty to take part," Cameron in a speech to the House of Commons, ahead of a debate that is expected to last around seven hours. "This international operation is about protecting our people, too, and protecting the streets of Britain should not be a task that we are prepared to entirely subcontract to other air forces of other countries," he said.
"This is not the stuff of fantasy. It is happening in front of us and we need to face up to it," Cameron said, referring to a number foiled terrorist plots across Europe.
All three main British political parties — Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat — have signaled they are prepared to endorse a bombing campaign against ISIL or ISIS in Iraq partly because Iraq's government has asked for help. Authorization to use force in Syria would require a separate vote.
The prime minister is seeking explicit parliamentary backing for intervention in Iraq partly because he suffered an embarrassing defeat last year over an attempt to get support for taking action against the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad. In 2003, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair went to war in Iraq against the wishes of many parliamentarians.
Cameron's prime ministerial mandate permits him to authorize action unilaterally but that is unlikely to be necessary because he is expected to get a large majority backing intervention. Demonstrators opposed to the idea took part in protests outside Downing Street on Thursday and Friday.
The debate comes as Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union's anti-terrorism chief, said there may be as many as 3,000 European Islamist militants fighting in Iraq and Syria. "If you believe in this (number), probably you want to be part of it (the coalition) as early as possible, de Kerchove said in televised remarks to the BBC.
One of those militants is a man seen in videos of the beheadings of two American journalists and a British aid worker. FBI Director James Comey on Thursday said U.S. officials now believe they know his identity. He did not release the name or nationality of the man dubbed "Jihadi John," but in the videos he speaks in British-accented English.
Coalition warplanes continued to bomb oil installations and other facilities in territory controlled by ISIL in eastern Syria on Friday.