Iraq conflict: US in new air strikes on militants

The latest US strikes have targeted Islamist militants terrorising members of the Yazidi religious minority, as Alpa Patel reports

The US military says it has carried out a third round of air strikes on Sunni Muslim militants to defend civilians in northern Iraq.

It said jet fighters and drones had destroyed armoured vehicles that were firing on members of the Yazidi sect trapped by jihadists on Mount Sinjar.

The US authorised the strikes last week to halt the lightning advance of Islamic State (IS) in Iraq.

France's foreign minister has arrived in Iraq to discuss the crisis.

Laurent Fabius, who landed in the capital Baghdad on Sunday morning, will also oversee the first delivery of French aid for displaced people in the Sinjar region.

He is due to later travel to the Kurdish city of Irbil, which is being threatened by the jihadists.

Meanwhile, a British military aircraft has made its first airdrop of humanitarian aid in northern Iraq, confirms the UK Ministry of Defence.

IS (formerly known as Isis) has taken control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria in recent months, declaring a "caliphate", or Islamic state, in the region.

UK humanitarian aid (10 August 2014) Britain delivered its first humanitarian aid to the civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar on Sunday
'Indiscriminately attacked'

A US military statement said Sunday's raids had been aimed at defending members of the Yazidi religious group who were being "indiscriminately attacked" by IS militants near Sinjar.

IS overran the town of Sinjar last week, prompting thousands of Yazidis to flee.

The Pentagon also said a third US air-drop of food and water had been made on Saturday night to refugees on Mount Sinjar.

The UN children's agency, Unicef, warned that at least 56 Yazidi children had died of dehydration in the mountains around Sinjar.

Yazidi refugees near the Syria-Iraq border (9 Aug 2014) Displaced members of the Yazidi community seek shelter at a camp near the Iraq-Syria border

UK officials estimated on Saturday that between 50,000 and 150,000 people could be trapped there.

A Syrian official told AP news agency that more than 20,000 starving Yazidis had fled across the border.

He said columns of refugees were running a gauntlet of gunfire through a tenuous "safe passage" being defended by forces of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan Region.

Amnesty International adviser Donatella Rovera told the BBC that thousands of those trapped on the north side of the mountains had managed to escape, but added: "The most acute situation is for those on the southern side. They cannot get to the safe passage that has been opened."

Kurdish forces watch as smoke billows from town of Makhmur during clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants (9 Aug 2014) Kurdish forces, known as Peshmerga, have been struggling to stop the advance of IS fighters
Photo published online purportedly showing Islamic State (IS) fighters patrolling the Mosul dam (9 August 2014) The Islamic State has published pictures purportedly showing its fighters on Mosul dam
Map showing IS-led Sunni rebel activity in Iraq
Call for Iraqi unity

IS seized Qaraqosh, referred to as Iraq's Christian capital, last week. The militants have also captured Mosul dam - the country's largest - where they have hoisted their black flags and are patrolling its perimeter.

On Saturday, President Obama warned it was "going to take some time" to help Iraqis overcome the jihadist-led rebellion and stabilise their country.

It is the first time US forces have been directly involved in a military operation in Iraq since they withdrew from the country in late 2011.

The US has been pressing Iraq's leaders to form a unity government to help tackle the threat from jihadists.

Iraqi politicians have been unable to form a government since April's parliamentary elections, which were won by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's State of Law Coalition.

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Iraq's minorities

Candle Lighting – at a home "shrine" in Iraqi Kurdistan

Christians

  • The majority are Chaldeans, part of the Catholic Church
  • Numbers have fallen from around 1.5 million since the US-led invasion in 2003 to 350,000-450,000
  • In Nineveh province, they live mainly in towns such as Qaraqosh (also known as Baghdida), Bartella, al-Hamdaniya and Tel Kef

Yazidis

  • Secretive group whose origins and ethnicity are subject to continuing debate
  • Religion incorporates elements of many faiths, including Zoroastrianism
  • Many Muslims and other groups view Yazidis as devil worshippers
  • There are estimated to be around 500,000 Yazidis worldwide, most living in Iraq's Nineveh plains

Iraq: The minorities of Nineveh

Who are the Yazidis?

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