Though delayed, the decision by U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday to authorize air strikes in Iraq comes close on the heels of ongoing surge in Islamic State (ISIS) activities to attack Kurdish minorities with 40,000 of them trapped on a mountaintop.
Responding to the Iraqi government’s appeal for help to fight the Islamic State militants, who have unleashed hunt for the minorities like Christians and Kurdish ethno-religious minorities gradually leading to Bosnia-type genocide in the vicinity, President Obama said “America is coming to help” them.
Addressing a news conference in the White House dining room, President Obama said the U.S. air power could also be used to protect American personnel and stop the militants advance toward the Kurdish capital Arbil.
The US troops will be carrying out their first airstrikes since 2011 when they left Iraq to protect itself. Obama, however, categorically denied any role for ground forces at this stage that may lead to another long-drawn involvement and battle in Iraq reminiscent of the last decade’s war in Iraw against the then President Saddam Hussein.
The move follows the UN Security Council meeting that condemned the attacks by the Islamic State group and called for international support for Iraq on Thursday.
“The members of the Security Council call on the international community to support the government and people of Iraq and to do all it can to help alleviate the suffering of the population affected by the current conflict in Iraq,” said Britain’s UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, current month’s president of the council.
Back in Iraq, Islamic State militants are holding a checkpoint at the border area of the Kurdish semi-autonomous region, near Arbil, a city of 1.5 million people capital city of the Kurdish regional government.
While Kurdish regional government is fighting the militants to wrest control of the Khazer checkpoint, ISIS militants have captured another Iraqi twon with majority Christians — Qaraqosh, prompting response from the world leaders, especially Britain and the US.
The possible genocide was invoked by President Obama as the Islamic State are fundamentalists who consider Shias, Christians and Yazidis or Kurdish minorities infidels.
Meanwhile, the militants have captured the town of Sinjar last weekend, ancestral home of the Yazidis, prompting the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs to undertake evacuation of about 200,000 trapped in the area or fleeing the town.
Islamic militants, who are Sunnis by sect, term Kurdish minorities as “devil worshippers” and vow to cleanse them of the faith, which may turn into cleansing of the ethnic community or genocide.
Those who have fled the town face acute shortage of water, food, shelter and medicine, said the UN staff. A spokesman for the UN agency for children said many children were suffering from dehydration and at least 40 had died so far. The impact would be on the neighbouring Turkey where they may flee, Turkish officials said.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis has appealed to world leaders to help end what the Vatican terms “the humanitarian tragedy now under way” in Iraq.
The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement released by his office, said: “The Secretary-General is deeply appalled at today’s reports of attacks by the terrorist group Islamic State in Kirkuk and Qaraqosh, and earlier attacks in Tal Afar and Sinjar district affecting mainly the vulnerable communities of Christians, Turkomen, and Yezidis.”
The Secretary-General welcomed humanitarian aid airdrop but expressesed his deep concern for the safety of the civilians.
“The Secretary-General calls on the international community, especially those with the influence and resources, to positively impact the situation, to support the Government and people of Iraq and to do all it can to help alleviate the suffering of the population affected by the current conflict in Iraq,” said the statement.