UK & World News
Iraq: Talks To Arm Kurds As PM Calls For Unity
The Foreign Secretary has described Islamic State as a "terrible threat" and said Britain would consider a request for arms by the Kurds favourably.
The UN has designated the humanitarian situation in northern Iraq as a "level three emergency", which is extremely serious, but foreign ministers meeting in Brussels are also focussing on how to push back the IS threat.
Philip Hammond said Britain is already shipping ammunition to the soldiers of the Kurdish Autonomous Region, in a shift from its position of only providing humanitarian aid.
The emergency meeting was called by the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton amidst reports of tens of thousands of Yazidi refugees being stranded on Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq.
France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had told Ms Ashton: "When there are dying people you have to come back from your holidays."
After an assessment by US special forces, plans for a mass evacuation from the mountain have slid down the priority list. The sense is that there are far fewer refugees still on the mountain.
Now the focus of discussions appears to be pushing back fighters from IS, formerly known as Islamic State In Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Prior to the meeting France had already announced it would supply arms. Without a change in Britain's stance that could have put it on an awkward collision course with EU counterparts.
Mr Hammond said the meeting was an opportunity to "compare notes and co-ordinate activity" with fellow EU countries.
Germany, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands have also said they are prepared to supply arms to the Kurds, but Austria has said it does not have the capability.
It comes after Iraq's prime minister designate, Haider al Abadi, said his country must unite in the face of "serious challenges".
Writing on Facebook after his predecessor, Nouri al Maliki, bowed to pressure and stepped down on Thursday, Mr al Abadi said he would not make "unrealistic promises" but added: "I will do my best to serve our people and our homeland."
The Iraqi military has been struggling to contain the IS onslaught, especially in the north of the country, where thousands of people have been forced to flee after they were given an ultimatum to convert to Islam or face death.
The offensive has seen the fall of major cities including Mosul and Tikrit, with reports of beheadings and crucifixions as they grab more territory for their self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq.
Airdrops had delivered more than 114,000 meals and tens of thousands of gallons of water, with fighter jets striking Islamic State fighters to allow the drops to take place, he said.
UK International Development Secretary Justine Greening said military action and resistance from Kurdish troops had cleared a safe path for many refugees, who originally were thought to number in the tens of thousands.
Britain has also completed seven aid deliveries and a "small number" of RAF Chinook helicopters are being sent to the region, in addition to Tornado jets with surveillance equipment.