Middle East

Iraq conflict: US 'plans aid drop to Iraqi Turkmen'

Kurdish Peshmerga forces stand guard at the Bakirta frontline near the town of Makhmur, south of Irbil - August 27, 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Kurdish forces have been trying to defeat Islamic State fighters but say they need better weapons

The US is considering making aid drops to Shia Turkmen in northern Iraq who are under siege from Islamic State (IS) militants, US defence sources say.

President Obama is also close to expanding US air strikes against IS after seeking support from several EU allies, according to US officials.

Last week the UN said urgent action was needed to stop a massacre in Amerli.

The Iraqi town is at risk of falling into the hands of IS, who now control large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

The majority of Amerli's residents are Shia Turkmen, who are seen as apostates by IS.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Islamic State's advance has displaced about 1.2m people in Iraq, many forced to flee to the Kurdish region

It has been surrounded by IS fighters for two months and the UN says residents have no electricity or drinking water, and are running out of food and medical supplies.

About 12,000 to 15,000 people are estimated to be in the town, which is 170km (105 miles) north of Baghdad and sits in territory controlled by the Kurdish authorities.

Iraqi troops are said to be preparing to attempt to break the siege and several air strikes by Iraqi aircraft were reported in the area on Wednesday.

Three US defence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to the AP news agency, said a US aid mission was under consideration but a timetable was not yet clear.

'Yazidis still stranded'

If President Obama authorises the aid drops it would be the second recent humanitarian intervention by US forces in Iraq.

Earlier this month, US planes dropped food and water to thousands of Yazidis stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq after IS fighters surrounded them.

But the US called off a planned rescue mission after a Special Forces team sent to the area said the number of those stranded was far lower than thought.

However, UK newspaper The Guardian said satellite imagery shows that around 2,000 Yazidis remain stranded on Mount Sinjar despite the US claiming that the siege was over on 14 August.

Salim Hassan, a Yazidi still on Mount Sinjar, told the newspaper that they "need weapons now more than food or water" to protect themselves from IS fighters.

Arms needed

His comments were echoed by Iraqi President Fuad Masum in an interview with BBC Arabic, who said his country's armed forces need more sophisticated weapons to defeat the extremist group.

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Media captionPresident Fuad Masum says Iraq needs more help to defeat Islamic State

On Wednesday, the Czech government approved supplying about $2 million (£1.2m) worth of ammunition and hand grenades to Kurdish forces, transported to Iraq by US forces.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Germany's government would make a decision by Sunday about what military aid it would send to Iraq.

Islamic State's advance across Iraq has displaced about 1.2 million people, with many flooding into Iraqi Kurdistan.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Irbil says the region is struggling to cope with the sudden influx amid the blistering heat of summer, with daytime temperatures above 45C (113F).

UK International Development Secretary Justine Greening visited one refugee camp in Kurdistan on Wednesday and said Britain "can do more, and will do more".

She announced an additional £10 million ($16.5m) of emergency aid, bringing the UK's total relief package for displaced Iraqis to £23 million ($38m).

Who are Islamic State (IS)?

  • Formed out of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2013, IS first captured Raqqa in eastern Syria
  • By early 2014, it controlled Falluja in western Iraq
  • Has since captured broad swathes of Iraq, seizing the northern city of Mosul in June
  • Fighting has displaced at least 1.2 million Iraqis
  • Pursuing an extreme form of Sunni Islam, IS has persecuted non-Muslims such as Yazidis and Christians, as well as Shia Muslims, whom it regards as heretics
  • In July alone, IS expanded dramatically, recruiting some 6,300 new fighters largely in Raqqa, an activist monitoring group said

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