U.S. on Iraq: genocide and ‘humanitarian catastrophe’

Both U.S. President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry hinted of a possible genocide in Iraq

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A campaign by Islamist militants in Iraq bore the signs of genocide and the stakes for the country could not be clearer, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday.

President Barack Obama said on Thursday he had authorized U.S. air strikes to blunt the onslaught of militants in northern Iraq and began airdrops of supplies to besieged religious minorities to prevent a “potential act of genocide.”

“The stakes for Iraq's future can also not be clearer,” Reuters quoted Kerry as saying on a visit to the Afghan capital, Kabul.

The United States also warned Thursday a jihadist offensive in northern Iraq could provoke a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

“The United States strongly condemns ISIS’s assault on Sinjar and surrounding areas of northern Iraq,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, using the acronym for the Sunni extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“These actions have exacerbated an already dire humanitarian crisis and the situation is nearing a humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.

“It is a situation that that we are looking at very closely,” he added.

“So if there are specific needs that need to be met in terms of enhancing Iraq security forces’ capabilities, then we will look to provide it,” he said, without giving further details.

U.S. media, citing senior White House officials, said Obama was weighing military options for strikes against the jihadists and aid drops to displaced and besieged civilians.

The comments made by the White House come after Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, was seized by jihadist militants when Kurdish troops withdrew overnight.

Several residents contacted by AFP confirmed that the entire area in northern Iraq - home to a large part of the country’s Christian community - had fallen to the ISIS jihadist group, and that its residents had fled.

The towns were shelled in the past few days by ISIS militants.

Some of them are less than 50 kilometers away from Erbil, the capital of the autonomous region of Kurdistan.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council met in an emergency session to address the crisis in Iraq, diplomats said.

The meeting, held at France's request, was being held behind closed doors at U.N. headquarters in New York.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “appalled” by reports of attacks by ISIS fighters, nothing that Christian, Turkmen and Yazidi minorities were mostly affected.

“Reports of Yazidis amassing along the Turkish border as well as thousands also trapped in the Sinjar mountains in desperate need of humanitarian assistance are of urgent and grave concern,” said Ban.

Saying he welcomed past airdrops to help trapped civilians, Ban called on all governments to “help alleviate the suffering of the population affected by the current conflict in Iraq.”

Also on Thursday, French President Francois Hollande pledged his country’s “support” to forces battling ISIS in Iraq amid growing Western concern over an advance by the Sunni fighters.

“The president confirmed that France was available to support forces engaged in this battle,” Hollande’s office said in a statement, after the French leader spoke about Iraq by telephone with the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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