UK & World News

  • 14 August 2014, 21:59

Iraq PM Quits As Rescue Mission Called Off

A US and UK humanitarian mission to rescue thousands of people trapped in Iraq is less likely to take place after the situation "greatly improved", according to President Barack Obama.

Mr Obama said airdrops had delivered more than 114,000 meals and tens of thousands of gallons of water to trapped ethnic minority Yazidis on Mount Sinjar during the past week.

His comments came hours before the divisive Iraqi prime minister Nouri al Maliki made a televised farewell speech to the increasingly fractured nation, in which he referred to the "terrorist" threat facing the country from Islamist militants.

Mr al Maliki, who had been facing growing pressure to step aside, confirmed he had given support to his replacement, Haider al Abadi, and will not be bidding for a third term as leader.

Mr Obama's decision to scale back efforts on Mount Sinjar was made after unnamed US officials said an estimated 4,500 civilians remained on the ridges - significantly fewer than the tens of thousands thought to have been there.

They said nearly half were herders and shepherds who lived there before the siege and do not want to leave.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have told Sky News there are only around 2,000 people there.

The UN's refugee agency UNHCR said earlier this week that tens of thousands of Yazidis had already managed to leave the mountain and get to safety, after fleeing Sunni militants of the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

IS fighters have threatened the ancient religious group with death if they fail to convert to Islam.

Britain's International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, said an evacuation of the mountain was now less likely because of the US assessment - but that an airlift has not been ruled out.

Earlier, Prime Minister David Cameron had said the UK's plans needed to be "flexible" for the "complicated humanitarian mission" and stressed the need to continue delivering aid to refugees.

The PM also chaired a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee in Downing Street.

Sky News Political Correspondent Sophy Ridge said: "Although there are fewer people on the mountain than previously thought, it doesn't mean humanitarian help is not needed elsewhere in northern Iraq."

Tory backbencher Mark Pritchard, who believes Britain should still be doing more, told Sky News: "Bread alone will not stop ISIS, it will require bullets."

In addition to US airdrops, the UK has successfully completed seven aid deliveries and was still sending a "small number" of RAF Chinook helicopters to the region.

It has also sent RAF Tornado jets equipped with surveillance equipment.

Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdish government's high representative to the UK, told Sky News that while the new refugee figures spelled "good news", up to two million displaced civilians remained "in a dire situation" in the Kurdistan region.

Her comments came as the UN declared the crisis at its highest level of emergency and condemned the "barbaric acts" of sexual violence IS fighters have reportedly inflicted on minority groups.

UNHCR has been hurriedly building new tent facilitiies for displaced people seeking refuge in Kurdish Iraq.