Middle East

Iraq crisis: Sunni leaders propose deal with new PM

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Media captionContaining around 20 Iraqi families two weeks ago, a refugee camp in Syria has now swollen to hold around 15,000 people, reports the BBC's Paul Wood

Some leaders of Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority have said they may work with the new prime minister, a move that could help break political deadlock.

The mainly Shia Muslim government is locked in a fight with Islamic State (IS), an extreme Sunni group leading an insurrection in the north.

Late on Friday, reports emerged of IS militants killing at least 80 men and taking women and children captive.

In New York, the UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on IS members.

Six people associated with IS or the Syria-based Nusra Front will now be subject to an international travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo, while backers of the two groups may also face sanctions.

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Media captionThe Yazidi community talks to the BBC about their escape from Mount Sinjar

Faith 'massacre'

In Iraq, reports and Kurdish officials said rebels targeted a village called Kocho, 45km (28 miles) south-east of Sinjar, killing men of the Yazidi faith and abducting scores of women and children.

"They arrived in vehicles and they started their killing this afternoon," one Kurdish official Reuters news agency. "We believe it's because of their creed: convert or be killed."

Yazidi and Christian people in northern Iraq have faced persecution by the jihadists, prompting US-led air strikes and aid drops and calls for other Western states to arm opponents of IS.

At an emergency EU meeting in Brussels, the 28 member-states were left to decide individually whether they would arm Iraq's Kurds, the main opponent of IS in the north.

Separately, fighting has flared up in mainly Sunni Anbar province, west of Baghdad, parts of which have been under IS control.

IS-led violence has driven an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis from their homes. Whole communities of Yazidis and Christians have been forced to flee in the north, along with Shia Iraqis, whom IS do not regard as true Muslims.

Chink of hope

A group of leaders from restive Sunni provinces issued a joint statement addressed to new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who took over from Nouri Maliki on Thursday.

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Media captionRAF crews gather intelligence in a mission over Iraq, as Jeremy Cooke reports

They said they could join the new government if the security and civil administrations in their areas were given equal status to that of the central government.

But they demanded that the Iraqi authorities stop the bombardment of Sunni provinces and cities, and said that local people should be allowed to run Sunni provinces.

Calling for a reform of the Iraqi army, they asked for the release of political detainees, an end to executions and the withdrawal of militias from Sunni cities.

Analysis: Jim Muir, BBC News, northern Iraq

In order to drive a wedge between Iraqi nationalist Sunnis and Islamic State, the Iraqi Sunnis must first be won over - not only by giving them seats in government, but by empowering them in their own areas.

Many have said they would then turn on the Islamist radicals and there are signs that it may have started to happen in some areas.

In 2007 the Sunnis drove al-Qaeda out of western Iraq altogether. This will be a much tougher affair.

If it is to stand a chance, the Sunnis will need all the help they can get from Iraqi government troops, Kurdish Peshmerga forces and American airpower. Nor can it really start in earnest until a solid new power-sharing deal is struck in Baghdad.

The removal of Mr Maliki, who was hated by the Sunnis, has provided a chink of hope in Iraq's crisis, BBC World Service Middle East editor Sebastian Usher reports.

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Image caption A member of the Iraqi security forces near Ramadi

There is no doubt that Sunni tribes are essential to any solution, but it will take a great deal to restore any of their trust in central government, he says, noting that other Sunni leaders have already dismissed the political transition as all but meaningless.

Fighting flared up on Friday with IS militants in Anbar.

AFP news agency quoted a Sunni tribal leader, Sheikh Abduljabbar Abu Risha, as saying an "uprising" was under way against IS, while Anbar police chief Maj-Gen Ahmed Saddak said security forces were backing the fight to drive out IS.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shia cleric, threw his weight behind the new Iraqi prime minister on Friday.

Air bridge plan

In Brussels, EU foreign ministers issued a statement condemning "in the strongest terms the attacks perpetrated by [IS] and other associated armed groups".

The UK said it would "consider favourably" any request to send arms to the Kurds, while the Czech government said it would be in a position to start deliveries of munitions by the end of the month.

Germany is legally prevented from arming countries involved in conflict, but Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he would go to the limit of "what is legally and politically possible" to help the Kurds and he will travel to Iraq shortly.

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Media captionThe representative for Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urges Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to form a "strong and efficient government"

The EU ministers agreed to provide a humanitarian air bridge to help those refugees driven from their homes, but there was little detail as to the funding or the timetable, BBC Europe editor Gavin Hewitt reports.

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