Islamic State fighters could slip back into Europe after waging war in the Middle East, Theresa May warns as she addresses British troops on a surprise visit to Iraq

  • May today became the first British Prime Minister to visit Iraq in almost a decade
  • She promised Britain would step up efforts to stop jihadists re-entering Europe?
  • The PM addressed almost 600 British troops in Iraq on a vital training mission ?

Theresa May today warned that Islamic State fighters could slip back into Europe as she became the first British prime minister to visit Iraq in almost a decade.

During the surprise trip to Baghdad, the Prime Minister said Britain would step up efforts to stop jihadists dispersing through the Middle East, as well as tackling the spread of propaganda online.

But Mrs May stepped into a defence row as she repeatedly refused to guarantee that troop numbers would not be cut as she visited a base where British soldiers are stationed.

The Prime Minister, whose first visit to a war zone had been kept secret, touched down near Baghdad in an RAF Hercules from Jordan.

The Prime Minister, whose first visit to a war zone had been kept secret, touched down near Baghdad today in an RAF Hercules after flying in from Jordan (pictured)?

The Prime Minister, whose first visit to a war zone had been kept secret, touched down near Baghdad today in an RAF Hercules after flying in from Jordan (pictured)?

Theresa May met British troops training Iraqi soldiers a Camp Taji near Baghdad today (pictured)?

Theresa May met British troops training Iraqi soldiers a Camp Taji near Baghdad today (pictured)?

During the surprise trip to Baghdad (pictured), the Prime Minister said Britain would step up efforts to stop jihadists dispersing through the Middle East

During the surprise trip to Baghdad (pictured), the Prime Minister said Britain would step up efforts to stop jihadists dispersing through the Middle East

Mrs May addressed some of the 600 British troops helping train security forces in the country before holding a one-on-one meeting with Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi

Mrs May addressed some of the 600 British troops helping train security forces in the country before holding a one-on-one meeting with Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi

She addressed some of the 600 British troops helping train security forces in the country before holding a one-on-one meeting with Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi.

She said: 'Obviously we're working together to defeat Daesh and my visit comes at a critical moment as we see the Caliphate collapsing with the fall of Mosul and Raqqa.

'We want to ensure that Iraq can in the future provide that strong, stable and unified state that can provide the security, the jobs and opportunities that all Iraqis want and deserve.'

She added: 'We have seen significant military success against Daesh, but we must recognise that the threat remains. And we must obviously deal with the issue of potentially people from Daesh dispersing elsewhere.'

The last visit by a prime minister to Iraq was by Gordon Brown in 2008, shortly before the majority of troops left at the end of Britain's six-year occupation of the southern part of the country.

As Islamic State is squeezed out of the battlefield in Syria and Iraq, Mrs May committed to helping neighbouring countries stopping the flow of people, who could try to make their way towards Britain.

She announced £10million in funding over the next three years to help strengthen Iraq's counter-terrorism agencies.

The UK will work with partners across the region to develop stronger border controls, watch-lists and biometric capabilities.

Mrs May said this will help ensure foreign fighters are identified, stopped, and disrupted before they can harm people, and so we can manage the return of women and children.

She also pledged to continue her push for internet firms to remove terrorist content within two hours of it being uploaded and ultimately preventing it from going up in the first place.

The UK will also continue to support Iraqi security forces, including offering places at the country's military academies.

Mrs May?announced £10million in funding over the next three years to help strengthen Iraq's counter-terrorism agencies

Mrs May?announced £10million in funding over the next three years to help strengthen Iraq's counter-terrorism agencies

Theresa May (pictured today with British troops in Iraq) today warned that Islamic State fighters could slip back into Europe as she became the first British prime minister to visit Iraq in almost a decade.

The Prime Minister (pictured today at Camp Taji), whose first visit to a war zone had been kept secret, touched down near Baghdad in an RAF Hercules from Jordan

The Prime Minister (pictured today at Camp Taji), whose first visit to a war zone had been kept secret, touched down near Baghdad in an RAF Hercules from Jordan

Mrs May donned a pair of sturdy walking boots (pictured) during her trip to the British training base at Camp Taji?

Mrs May donned a pair of sturdy walking boots (pictured) during her trip to the British training base at Camp Taji?

Mrs May said: 'Daesh's ability to spread propaganda at speed drew terrorists to Iraq and Syria from around the world, contributing to the death of many thousands of innocent people and the destruction of Iraqi infrastructure.

'Military success against Daesh means they are increasingly losing control of the territory, resources and population that allowed them to be a uniquely dangerous threat to Iraq, the region and Europe.

'But we have always expected that the threat Daesh posed would evolve. In response to our military success, Daesh has become more diffuse, organic and networked. The UK is committed not only to defeating Daesh militarily but also to countering the dispersal of foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria.'

However, Mrs May three times refused to guarantee that British troop numbers will not be reduced.

She said: 'We are talking about increasing the amount of money that is being spent on defence. We have given that commitment, we will maintain our Nato commitment of 2 per cent of GDP being spent on defence.

'What we are doing is looking at the threats that we face and the capabilities we need in order to be able to meet those threats.'

Theresa May (pictured in Baghdad today with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi) warned that Islamic State fighters could slip back into Europe

Theresa May (pictured in Baghdad today with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi) warned that Islamic State fighters could slip back into Europe

Mrs May (pictured today during a press conference) became the first British prime minister to visit Iraq in almost a decade as she embarked on a surprise visit to see UK troops fighting Islamic State?

Mrs May (pictured today during a press conference) became the first British prime minister to visit Iraq in almost a decade as she embarked on a surprise visit to see UK troops fighting Islamic State?

Pushed again on whether the British Army could get smaller, she replied: 'What we are doing is ensuring that we are increasing the defence budget. We need to look at how we most effectively spend that increased and rising defence budget.

'It is about looking at the threats that we face and ensuring we have the capabilities to meet those threats.'

As Mrs May visited Camp Taji, a coalition base north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad where around 80 British troops are currently involved in training local soldiers, she swapped her leopard-print kitten heels for a pair of black Salomon walking boots.

She witnessed Royal Engineers training Iraqi Security Forces in how to detect and defeat improvised explosive devices.

After watching one Iraqi soldier practice his skills in using a metal detector, she quizzed him through an interpreter about the skills he was gaining.

The Prime Minister then talked to some of the troops currently deployed at Camp Taji, including those from the Royal Medical Corps about the techniques and training they have been offering the Iraqis.

Mrs May reviewed an honour guard in Baghdad alongside Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as she arrived in the Iraqi capital today?

Mrs May reviewed an honour guard in Baghdad alongside Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as she arrived in the Iraqi capital today?

As she enjoyed a cup of coffee outside the UK headquarters at the base, Mrs May said 'oh wow' when she spotted a giant cake decorated with the Union flag.

At a meeting with al-Abadi at the Iraqi government palace in Baghdad, Mrs May paid tribute 'to the bravery and sacrifice' of the country's security forces.

She said: 'They are on the frontline in the fight against terrorism and extremism.

'And I am proud of the role the UK has played to support Iraq in this endeavour as part of the Global Coalition against Daesh.

'We will continue to stand by Iraq as the last remnants of Daesh's so-called Caliphate are liberated.

'For as long as the Iraqis want and need it, the UK will continue to be a fully committed security partner.

'We will support you to 'win the peace' – addressing the issues that led to Daesh's rise, and building a stronger, more inclusive and unified Iraqi state.'

Mrs May will continue her three-day Middle East trip in Saudi Arabia this evening, before she returns to Amman in Jordan for a day of engagements tomorrow.

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