Obama sends more military personnel to Iraq

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has confirmed his country will join humanitarian airdrops over the country

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The Obama administration has sent about 130 additional military personnel to Iraq, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Tuesday, as Washington seeks to help Iraq contain the threat posed by hardline militants from the Islamic State.

Hagel, speaking to troops in California, said the soldiers had arrived in the area around Iraqi Kurdistan's capital, Arbil, earlier in the day on Tuesday.

iraq helicopter reuters
iraq helicopter reuters

A U.S. defense official, in a statement issued as Hagel was speaking, said the soldiers sent to northern Iraq would "assess the scope of the humanitarian mission and develop additional humanitarian assistance options beyond the current airdrop effort in support of displaced Iraqi civilians trapped on Sinjar Mountain by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant."

France to deliver arms

French President Francois Hollande announced on Wednesday announced that his country will deliver weapons to Kurdish forces fighting ISIS extremists.

“In order to respond to the urgent need expressed by the Kurdistan regional authorities, the president has decided, in agreement with Baghdad, to deliver arms in the coming hours,” Hollande’s office said in a statement.

“France intends to play an active role by providing, along with its partners and in liaison with the new Iraqi authorities, all the assistance required,” the statement added.

Over the weekend, Paris already provided 18 tonnes of humanitarian aid and a new shipment of 20 tonnes of aid was due to arrive in northern Iraq later Wednesday.

Hollande reiterated France’s support for Iraq’s premier designate Abadi and urged a “unity government, representing all Iraqis to fight effectively against Islamic State.”

The urgency of Iraq has made British Prime Minister David Cameron to cut short his holiday to return to Britain to chair a meeting to discuss the Iraq crisis after some politicians and military commentators urged him to intervene there militarily.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is ready to hold a meeting of foreign ministers on the crisis in Iraq, a spokesman said Wednesday.

“Ashton is ready to convene a FAC (Foreign Affairs Council) as early as this week and is checking with member states if it is possible,” the spokesman said, following a meeting of EU ambassadors on Tuesday.

Pope calls on U.N.

Pope Francis has also called on the international community and the United Nations in particular to do all they can to stop the “systematic violence” against ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq.

In a letter to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon made public on Wednesday, the pope said he was issuing an “urgent appeal to the international community to end the humanitarian tragedy now under way.”

Australia to join humanitarian airdrops

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has confirmed his country will join humanitarian airdrops in Iraq and did not rule out the possibility of greater military involvement.

Abbott, speaking in London after security talks, said Canberra was in discussions with international partners on how to protect displaced Iraqi civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar by jihadist Islamic State militants.

"Australian aircraft will shortly be joining the humanitarian airlift and airdrop to the Mount Sinjar region and we are consulting with our partners including the United States, including the United Kingdom, about what further assistance Australia can give," he said late Tuesday.

Last week, the United States launched an air campaign to break the siege of Mount Sinjar, bring humanitarian relief to the Yazidis and support Kurdish troops protecting their capital Arbil.

Washington has ruled out sending U.S. combat troops to the country, as has Britain, which has increased its support efforts and missions to supply humanitarian aid to refugees.

Asked whether Australia's efforts could include further military action by defense forces, Abbott said: "We certainly don't rule that out.

"We are talking to our partners -- and our partners, in this instance, are certainly much wider than simply the United States and United Kingdom -- but we are talking to our security partners about what we can usefully do to help," he said.

But he stressed that any involvement would be a humanitarian mission to protect those at risk from the "murderous hordes" of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS.

"There is a world of difference between getting involved to prevent genocide and the kind of involvement that we've seen in recent years by western countries in the Middle East... and no one should conflate the two," he said.

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