(Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama authorised air strikes on Iraq to protect Christians and prevent “genocide” of tens of thousands of members of an ancient sect sheltering on a desert mountaintop from Islamic State fighters threatening to exterminate them.
In Baghdad, where politicians have been paralysed by infighting while the state falls apart, the top Shi’ite cleric all but ordered Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to quit, a bold intervention that could bring the veteran ruler down.
The United States began to drop relief supplies to refugees from the ancient Yazidi sect, but there was no sign yet of air strikes, which Obama authorised for the first time since pulling troops out in 2011.
The British government told its citizens to leave parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, including the regional capital Arbil, on Friday as the sweeping advance of Islamist militants brought them closer to Kurdish territory.
The government said the security situation could deteriorate quickly after fighting in the last two days to the southwest of Arbil, where many Western oil workers and executives are based, so British citizens in the regional capital of 1.5 million people should leave immediately.
“This follows attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on towns to the Southwest of Erbil (Arbil) on 6-7 August,” the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said on its website.
Turkey is stepping up humanitarian aid to northern Iraq, officials said on Friday, adding that a U.S. air base on its soil had not been used in the U.S. air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq.
Turkey has a 370-km (230-mile) border with northern Iraq and is alarmed by the advance of Sunni militants towards Arbil, capital of the Iraqi Kurdish region which has acted as a buffer for Turkey against instability further south.
(Reuters) – U.S. military aircraft conducted an airstrike on Friday against Islamic State artillery used against Kurdish forces defending the city of Arbil, Iraq, near U.S. personnel, a Pentagon spokesman said.
Two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Arbil, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.
He said the Islamic rebels had been using the artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Arbil where U.S. personnel are located.
“The decision to strike was made by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief,” he said.