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ISIS Violence: 'All Warning Signs Of Genocide'
John Kerry has said a campaign by Islamist militants in Iraq bears the signs of genocide, speaking hours after the US threatened airstrikes against the group.
President Barack Obama ordered airdrops of supplies to besieged religious minorities.
In a late-night televised address, Mr Obama said targeted strikes would be launched - if needed - to stop the advance on Irbil by the Islamic State - the group previously known as ISIS or ISIL.
Mr Kerry, the US secretary of state, said: "The stakes for Iraq's future can also not be more clear.
"ISIL's campaign of terror against the innocent, including the Christian minority, and its grotesque targeted acts of violence show all the warning signs of genocide," he said during a visit to Afghanistan.
His words echoed comments by Mr Obama, who said any action would be aimed at protecting civilians and preventing a "potential act of genocide".
"Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, 'There is no one coming to help,'" The President said.
"Well, today America is coming to help."
However, he stressed there was no intention of sending in any troops.
The Vatican said Pope Francis is sending a cardinal to Iraq to help thousands of Christians fleeing the militants' rapid advance.
Prime Minister David Cameron called the attacks by IS "barbaric" and said he was "extremely concerned by the appalling situation in Iraq and the desperate situation facing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis".
However, Downing Street said there would be no UK military action in Iraq.
Some 40,000 residents from the ancient Yezidi community have been forced to leave the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar after the Sunni fighters overwhelmed Kurdish forces.
Many Yezidis are trapped on Mount Sinjar without food or water and are at risk of starvation as the militants surround the base.
"Children are dying of thirst, meanwhile ISIL forces have called for the destruction of the entire Yezidi people, which would constitute genocide," Mr Obama said.
"These innocent families are faced with a horrible choice: Descend the mountain and be slaughtered, or stay and slowly die of thirst and hunger."
Two F-18 fighter jets kept watch over the three cargo aircraft - one C-17 and two C-130s - during the Mount Sinjar aid mission.
The planes dropped 72 bundles, containing more than 20,000 litres of drinking water and 8,000 pre-packaged meals.
Militants have been surging across the north of Iraq towards Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region.
The US has a consulate in the city, where civilian and military staff work.
Mr Obama said airstrikes would target IS convoys "should they move toward the city".
The announcement was Mr Obama's most significant response yet to the crisis. The President had been reluctant to deepen US military re-engagement in Iraq after the last troops left in 2011.
But he said the strikes had been approved to help Iraqi forces and stop a "massacre" of the Yezidis.
IS has issued the Yezidi people an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a religious fine, flee their homes or face death.
The group sees the Yezidis, who are followers of a religion derived from Zoroastrianism, as "devil worshippers".
Attacks on minorities in Iraq could constitute a crime against humanity, said the UN Security Council at an emergency meeting on Thursday.
Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Christians, are fleeing from the jihadists who have swept through more than a dozen towns in recent days.
Among them, the militants captured Iraq's biggest Christian town, Qaraqosh, prompting many residents to leave, fearing for their lives.
The group has declared a caliphate - an Islamic state - across much of Iraq and Syria and wants to bring in a strict version of Islamic law.