UK & World News

  • 7 August 2014, 22:49

US 'Mulls Airstrikes' As Iraqis Trapped By ISIS

The US says it is supporting Iraqi and Kurdish attempts to protect thousands of people trapped on a mountain by forces from Islamic State, previously known as ISIS.

Around 40,000 residents from the ancient Yazidi community were forced to leave the Iraqi town of Sinjar after the hardline Sunni fighters overwhelmed Kurdish forces.

The Islamic State issued the Yazidis an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a religious fine, flee their homes or face death.

Many of them are trapped on Mount Sinjar without food of water and are at risk of starvation as the Islamist militants are at the base, although some Yazidis have been rescued.

President Obama is looking at a range of options to help them, from dropping humanitarian supplies for civilians to military strikes on the Sunni fighters, three years after the US left Iraq.

Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Christians, are fleeing from the jihadists who have swept through more than a dozen towns.

Among them, the militants captured Iraq's biggest Christian town, Qaraqosh, prompting many residents to leave.

Kurdish peshmerga units, which had protected the area, were also said to have fled.

The Islamist rebels have been surging across the north towards the capital of the Kurdish region Arbil as an official denied they were in control of a checkpoint 30 minutes' drive away.

Islamic State sees the Yazidis, who are followers of a religion derived from Zoroastrianism, as "devil worshippers".

The community is spread across a large area of the north and is part of the country's Kurdish minority.

France has warned a "tragedy of immense proportions" is unfolding there.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said any US military action would be "very limited in scope" and closely tied to political reforms.

He warned the situation for civilians threatened to become a "humanitarian catastophe" and the dire situation was a consequence of a broader failure by Iraq's leaders.

Shia Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who is seen as marginalising Sunni communities, is under mounting pressure to give up his bid for a third term in office.

Iraq's National Alliance, a bloc made up of the largest Shia parties, is close to nominating a "nationally acceptable" figure to become PM, its spokesman said, adding Mr al Maliki would fail to secure another term.

Meanwhile, residents living near Iraq's largest dam near Mosul say the militants have taken control of the dam, putting them in control of enormous power and water resources and access to the Tigris River which runs through the heart of Baghdad.

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